Chinese agencies mount coordinated crackdown on telecoms fraud

BEIJING (Reuters) - Six Chinese agencies announced a coordinated effort to tackle internet and telecoms fraud on Friday (Sept 23), the government's latest bid to get to grips with an explosion of such crimes it says have led to huge financial losses.

Police registered 590,000 telecoms fraud cases in 2015, up from about 100,000 in 2011, leading to losses of 22.2 billion yuan (S$4.5 billion), state media said. Callers often impersonate officials or authority figures and prey on the elderly, students or the unemployed.

The fraud has spread overseas, with Chinese speakers recruited in neighbouring self-ruled Taiwan increasingly setting up operations in East Africa or Southeast Asia.

Taipei has accused Beijing of kidnapping when such countries have deported Taiwanese people to China. This week, Cambodia deported 13 Taiwanese suspects to the mainland, ignoring protests from Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province.

Kenya has also returned dozens of suspects to China this year.

China's supreme court, its top prosecutor, the Ministry of Public Security, the central bank, the Ministry of Industry of Information Technology and the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a joint statement vowing to crack down on the scams.

"Telecom and internet fraud crimes seriously impact the people's legal interests, destroy social harmony and stability, and must be resolutely punished under law," the agencies said in a joint statement on the public security ministry's website.

By the end of October, the agencies must enforce real-name registration for all phone accounts, the agencies said. Renting, lending or selling bank or payment accounts would be a crime, the statement said.

China has long advanced real-named registration on many forms of digital communications in an effort to combat crime and suppress the spread of rumours, prompting critics to accuse the government of trying to muzzle online dissent.

The announcement comes after China's top prosecutor on Tuesday issued a regulation stipulating that digital information, including online posts, pictures, social networks, cloud storage, phone records, text messages, electronic payment records and computer processing files can be used as evidence in court.

"The data covered in the regulations goes beyond just social media posts or the content of friend circles on WeChat," said Mareike Ohlberg, a research associate at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. "This looks like an attempt to regulate the collection of electronic data in much more detail."