South Korean man gets 10 years in prison for China-based phone scam

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Dec. 4, 2023 8:10PM GMT+9

A South Korean man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for defrauding more than a hundred people through a cross-border telephone scam that spanned nearly six years.

According to local news outlet Yonhap News Agency, the Daejon District Court ordered the forty-one-year-old suspect, who was the leader of the phone scamming operation, to pay a fine of 800 million won (around $620,000) in addition to his ten-year prison sentence. The court explained their decision, stating that criminal activity of this kind must be addressed with severe punishment due to its antisocial nature, as it leaves victims drained of funds and in a very difficult position from which to recover from their losses.

The court further stated that the suspect conspired with accomplices to organize a phone scamming criminal organization and that he turned that scheme into a reality beginning in March 2014, operating a call center out of an apartment in the Chinese city of Qingdao. The suspect was assisted by one accomplice in particular in recruiting the employees who were responsible for manning the center. This accomplice, a forty-year-old man, assembled the workers by uploading a post online that promised high salaries for work in China and further offering potential hires free airline tickets and guaranteed visa sponsorship.

According to News 1, a local news outlet, the suspect gathered more than thirty people who acted as his accomplices. In total, the criminal group extorted more than 2 billion won ($1.6 million) from 134 victims until June of 2020. They preyed upon financially vulnerable South Koreans and tricked them by stating they could receive a low-rate government loan once they sent the necessary deposits.

The criminals established a set of codes of conduct within their network to hide their activities from law enforcement. The workers used aliases instead of their real names to make sure that no one knew each other’s real names. The criminals also made sure that the workers did not use their real identities while making financial transactions with funds they received from their criminal activities. Finally, they laundered their illicit proceeds by receiving the payment through gift vouchers and changing them into foreign currencies through local currency exchange offices.

“The leader of a phone scamming operation is in charge of providing material assistance to the whole group. It is more likely that the leader will get the largest portion of the group’s illicit gains,” said Kim Jae-chun, the chief of the major crime investigation division at the Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency to The Readable. “However, catching the leader does not mean that the criminal group has been thwarted because the leader does not know all of his employees. Therefore, further investigation is needed.”

The Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency worked jointly with the Korean National Police Agency who requested assistance from Interpol and the Chinese police. The Agency succeeded in extraditing the suspect from China to South Korea in May of this year.

The cover image of this article was designed by Sangseon Kim. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

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.