By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Jul. 25, 2023 8:10PM GMT+9
In 2011, I came across a vendor on an online second-hand store who was selling a music player that I had been craving for years, the iPod Touch. The price was 100,000 won (almost $80), less than one third of the cost of the original product. The deal was too good to be true for someone who had just become a university student. Clouded by adrenaline, I did not hesitate for a second and pressed the “send” button on my mobile banking account.
A few minutes passed by, but there was no answer from the vendor. It was obvious that I was scammed. A dozen years have passed, and I recently had a chance to summon this memory of mine. On July 6, the Korean National Police Agency issued a warning statement regarding “voice phishing,” a common term used in the country to indicate phone scams. At the bottom of the page, the police stated that they would provide an audio file of a victim for those who requested it, which I did.
In the two-minute-long file, the victim said in a calm manner that he lost his entire fortune, 1.8 billion won ($1.4 million), two years ago. Out of this loss, 1.4 billion won ($1 million) was money he borrowed from the bank. He is now in the middle of repaying his debt. According to the Korean Social Trends report issued by the Statistics Research Institute last year, 3.8 trillion won ($3 billion) was lost due to voice phishing from its first appearance in the country in 2006 to 2021. In total, 278,200 cases during this period have been reported to the South Korean police.
Recognizing the devastating results of these crimes, which often includes wrecking citizens’ lives, the country has been battling with the criminals. The South Korean government launched a joint investigation team comprised of six different agencies to tackle phone scams in July of last year. The team has arrested 278 criminals so far. Furthermore, they are applying an artificial intelligence model to draw a detailed picture of the phone scam ecosystem starting from September.
Additionally, South Korean lawmakers have been fighting scammers by drafting laws to prevent scammers from taking advantage of loopholes in the current banking system as well as strengthening the legal punishment against criminals. Correspondingly, the number of victims is declining. Around 7,000 cases of phone scams occurred from January to May of this year, which is a 31% decrease compared to the same period last year.
South Korean law enforcement does not only focus on catching fraudsters, but also on assisting victims. The police announced that they will open an integration center for phone scams response and report this month to assist phone scam victims by offering them a single communication channel to report these crimes.
Twelve years ago, I did not know it was possible to catch the bad guys, let alone to retrieve my loss. Although the victim in the audio file might still be suffering from the crime, the criminals were caught by the police. As the country keeps tackling voice phishing, it might be possible for its citizens to see a different future rather than feeling hopeless in the pursuit of justice.
This article was edited by Dain Oh.
Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.