Widespread online scams pose daunting challenge to Thai authorities

540
Widespread online scams pose daunting challenge to Thai authorities

Thai victims of online scams have lost an estimated over 10 billion baht a year in recent years.

Wetang Phuangsup, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, recently revealed that between March 1, 2022 and July 15, 2023, a total of 296,063 cases of online scams were reported, inflicting financial fraud amounting to 39.1 billion baht.

During the same period, 20,667 people were lured by fraud investment schemes run by criminal gangs, inflicting losses of 20.7 billion baht on these victims, Wetang, who is also spokesperson of the ministry, said.

Cheating through impersonation 

Pakorn Peetathawatchai, president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), said that many people had become victims of investment scams, as scammers impersonate organizations and well-known figures in order to lure people into their fraudulent investment schemes and online criminal activities.

According to the Cyber Crime Investigation Division, online scammers engage mostly in online shopping scams, luring job seekers to transfer money, lending scam, investment scam, and making threats via telephone calls. Financial damage is estimated at 11.5 billion baht over the past 14 months.

Who are the masterminds?  

According to a police database, most of the masterminds are foreigners based in other countries and hence most of them have not been apprehended. In the earlier stage, criminal gangs from Taiwan ran financial scams by hiring Thai criminals as they needed staff who could speak the Thai language. Later those illegal activities have been taken over by Chinese gangs from mainland China. Lately, a copycat of Thai criminals who used to work for foreign agents are running the show themselves. They usually base their operations in neighboring countries, such as Cambodia.

The criminal gangs use telephone and various social media platforms, such as Facebook, as tools to reach the victims.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/thai-police-bust-call-scammers-swindled-older-americans-rcna76271

The scammers have developed their tactics along the way, firstly by creating bogus financial schemes, and of late by impersonating celebrities and influential figures. They also target retirees and those looking for quick returns, as they are gullible, according to Thai officials.

Vikrom Kromadit, founder and acting chief executive officer of Amata Corporation Pcl, is one of those who has been impersonated via a Facebook page. Scammers pretending to be Vikrom, posted a statement luring people to invest in a scheme that promised weekly returns of 3%-7% percent.

“I feel guilty that many people have lost their money because of me [being impersonated by scammers],” said Vikrom.

He said he had tried to inform people about the fraud since last year but the issue has not yet gone away. Last year, more than 50 suspected scammers were charged and this year, nine suspects were arrested while three suspects fled, he said.

He said people should be aware that high investment returns were a trap. “It is impossible to find investment returns of 3%-7% a week even if you sell drugs,” he warned people. People should directly consult financial experts about investment, not me, he added.

Campaign against online scams 

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and its 10 allies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organizations, the Thai Bankers’ Association, the Thai Listed Companies Association and the Association of Investment Management Companies, recently launched a campaign to stop investment fraud.

“In the first phase of the operation, we will disseminate investment information about fake news and intensify efforts on investment education for investors and people at large,” said Pakorn.

In the second phase, concerned parties would coordinate on implementation of strict and effective legal action, he vowed.

Thawatchai Pittayasophon, the deputy secretary-general of the SEC, revealed that even the SEC had been impersonated. This year, the SEC has launched legal proceedings against 10 Facebook pages for pretending to act as the SEC. The SEC has launched an “Investor Alert” campaign to warn investors about fake news and fake accounts on social media platforms.

Wetang suggested that people should take preventive steps and be sceptical of people who invite investments with the lure of very high returns. They should not transfer money to such people. Victims who are impersonated or are cheated during online shopping, can call authorities on 1212, or the cyber police on 1441, he added.

Daunting task 

Lack of adequate staffing in the police department and authority at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, may make it difficult to control widespread online scams, said Vikrom. He suggested that Thailand learn from China and Singapore where law enforcement is more effective and the penalty for crimes is severe.

Get Our Free Email Newsletter

Get independent THAI, US, UK and World news alerts

Subscription confirmation required.