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How an idol-turned-actor became part of phone scam ring

Lured by ‘high-paying jobs,’ young Koreans tricked into working for phishing syndicates

(123rf)
(123rf)


A K-pop idol-turned-actor recently turned himself into police, claiming he was tricked into working for phone scammers. 

The 32-year-old, who turned himself in to a police station in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, said he thought he was hired for a simple job of collecting money from someone on behalf of his employer and wiring it to them.

After meeting the person he was supposed to receive the money from, however, he realized that he was lured into assisting a voice phishing scam and that the person in front of him was the victim. 

The actor submitted the 6 million won ($4,600) he received from the alleged victim to the police, and told investigators that he found the job via an online job ad and took it because it offered high pay and he was undergoing financial troubles. 

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Cho Su-in, an inspector at the National Office of Investigation under the National Police Agency, said there are quite many young people who get duped into assisting swindlers in a similar way.

In fact, the police suspect a significant portion of people in their 20s and 30s who get caught for their links to voice phishing scams could have been lured by promises of “high-paying part-time jobs.” 

According to data from the National Police Agency, out of last year’s total of 22,045 voice phishing criminals, the number of those in their 20s and 30s stood at 9,149 and 4,711, respectively. Combined, they took up 60 percent of the total. 

“These young voice phishers are mostly employed as part-timers and usually work as ‘delivery men’ whose main job is to collect money from victims and wire it to their employers,” Cho said. 

“In general, they earn 10-20 percent of the money they handle as their daily pay. It’s quite a lot of money given that victims are usually swindled out of millions of won,” the officer added. 

While most knowingly take the illegal job, some are completely duped by false job advertisements, she continued. 

Some crime groups make deceptive job adverts on major portal sites and social networking platforms, pretending to be a legitimate employer. 

“By putting fake pictures of company buildings in their job postings, some deceive young job seekers with false job descriptions. For instance, they say they are a financial firm looking for debt collecting agents,” she said. 

Even if it was by deception, a person is subject to punishment for aiding and abetting financial fraud. They could face jail time of up to five years, and/or fines of up to 10 million won, Cho added. 

In the case of the actor, the Yeoju police said he was booked without physical detention, and that the case has been referred to the prosecution. The fact that he turned himself in and returned the victim’s money would be considered should he be indicted and face trial, they said. 

Cho said it was rare for people who have been tricked into aiding scammers to turn themselves in like the actor did. 

“It is largely due to the fear over punishment,” she said, while urging caution when an online job offer promises exceptionally high pay. 

Voice phishing scams, the first case of which was reported in 2006, are soaring year after year. 

The NPA’s data shows the number of cases going from 24,259 in 2017 to 30,982 in 2021, with the amount of damages more than tripling from 247 billion won to 774.4 billion won during the same period. 

Voice phishing refers to electronic fraud, in which individuals are tricked over the phone into disclosing critical financial or personal information to scammers. Money transfer scams, in which victims are deceived by scammers mostly impersonating investigators into sending money from their bank accounts, make up the majority of phishing crimes.

By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)

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