Caixin
Aug 29, 2016 06:27 PM

Scam targeting poor student highlights need for privacy protection

(Beijing) — Police have nabbed six suspects linked to a phone scam in eastern Shandong Province, less than a week after public outrage erupted over an impoverished student who was bilked out of 10,000 yuan (US$ 1,500) that she had planned to use for college tuition.

Citing the Ministry of Public Security, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Aug. 27 that police in the eastern provinces of Shandong, Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi detained four of the suspects in a manhunt over the past week. The other two turned themselves in.

Five of the six, aged 19 to 35, came from Fujian Province, a major hub for phone scams in China, investigators told Caixin.

The six pretended to be local education officials handling financial aid for poor students in the Shandong city of Linyi, when they swindled impoverished student Xu Yuyu of nearly 10,000 yuan on Aug. 19, officials said.

Xu, 19, who was enrolled as an incoming freshman at the Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, fell unconscious on her way home from the police station to report the case. She died of cardiac arrest at a hospital two days later. It was not known if stress from the case contributed to her death.

Media reports of the death triggered a huge public outcry over rampant phone scams and the failure of authorities to protect private information from being leaked to scammers.

Xu apparently dropped her guard because she had indeed applied for financial aid with local education authorities, said Li Aijun, head of the Internet Financing Law Research Institute at China University of Political Science and Law.

A real education official called her family on Aug. 18 telling them to wait for her application to be processed, Xu's father told Caxin. The scammers then called her the next day and convinced Xu to transfer 9,900 yuan of her own funds to their account, saying the transfer was part of a process needed to give her 2,600 yuan in financial aid.

Xu isn't the only one to lose money to phone scammers. Government statistics show the number of phone scams uncovered in recent years has grown 20 to 30 percent annually.

Phone scams have become widespread because China's three profit-minded mobile carriers have turned a blind eye to the problem, information specialist Tu Zipei said.

"It is not difficult to find out how much the three companies cash in on billions of unsolicited phone calls and spam text messages sent out via their networks," Tu wrote in a commentary for Caixin.

He added the three mobile carriers could easily develop their own software to block such unwanted phone calls.

Tu said that Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which oversees the telecommunication industry, must also take some responsibility for failing to enforce real-name registration among mobile subscribers.

Contact reporter Li Rongde at (rongdeli@caixin.com); editor Doug Young (dougyoung@caixin.com)

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