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[Op-Ed] Catching Voice Phishers

Posted September. 02, 2009 05:02,   


To get the personal information of innocent people, voice phishing or “vishing” scammers pose as officials from government agencies including the National Tax Service, the National Pension Service, the National Intelligence Service, the National Police Agency, and the Korea Post. The national intelligence agency formed a task force last year to study the strongholds of such con artists. Their call centers that make indiscriminate phone calls to Koreans from northern provinces in China are now moving south. The intelligence agency hired ethnic Koreans in China to get jobs at one of the call centers in Guangdong province and give Chinese authorities photographs of their criminal facilities taken at the site. Korea and China have arrested 129 scammers from 13 organized gangs, including ethnic Korean telemarketers who lived in one apartment.

About 20,000 cases of “vishing” have been detected in Korea since the second half of 2006, with victims losing 200 billion won (161 million U.S. dollars). The arrest rate of 64 percent falls far short of 90 percent for ordinary crimes. This is because the call centers are located in China or Taiwan and the scammers act in cell-type organizations, making it difficult for law enforcement to round them up in one stroke.

Japan since 2004 has seen frequent financial scams using the telephone. The fraud is called the “ore ore (it’s me)” scam because the perpetrators call the elderly pretending to be a son or a grandchild in trouble and in desperate need of money.

Tokyo last year began implementing a law requiring financial institutions to freeze an account implicated in fraud if a victim reports a scam, and to return money to victims 60 days after public notice of a case. Korea has also enforced a similar protection system since January 2007, allowing financial institutions to freeze the money sent by “vishing” victims. Korean victims, however, cannot get their money back in most cases because the system has no legal basis.

Since most “vishing” calls come from overseas, those receiving scam calls can exercise more caution through caller ID. SK Telecom, Korea’s largest mobile service provider, began the service yesterday. LG Telecom and KT will follow suit in December. Fixed-line telephone carriers have provided caller ID service since May. The best way to prevent “vishing” is for would-be victims to take precautions, but close cooperation among telecommunications and financial service providers and law enforcement can better help prevent the crime and clean up the messy situation.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)