Elderly people tricked by scammers who say they are helping fight ‘foreign enemies’

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/20 19:38:39

Employees of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China promote tips on how to avoid telecom fraud in a community in Yangzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province. Photo: IC

Employees of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China promote tips on how to avoid telecom fraud in a community in Yangzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province. Photo: IC

Many people living in poverty and dreaming of wealth have fallen victim to pyramid schemes in recent years, and these swindles have proven to be especially effective when powered by social media and mixed with patriotism.

"Please, just tell me where to find a police officer who will put my mum in jail," a young woman asked Li Xu, founder of the China Anti-Pyramid Selling Association after she found her mother involved in a pyramid scheme once again.

This time, the scheme was conducted via a WeChat group whose members are mostly elderly people and their so-called mission is to "protect national assets."

According to the fraudsters, assets worth trillions of yuan were transferred overseas by the Qing royals when they were in power and are now frozen, and for every few hundred yuan that is donated around 1 million yuan is unlocked can be given to the members who donated the money.

Such schemes sometimes involve fake projects to help charitable causes. 

According to a screenshot of a notice circulated in a WeChat group, participants can receive 4 million yuan ($594, 000) if they pay 111 yuan into a poverty relief project apparently launched by the State Council. The notice also includes the details of how the 111 yuan was supposedly spent.

Group members are also encouraged to invade others in the scam. Shanghai resident Niu Zhe (pseudonym) said his parents have invited him to dozens of WeChat groups with hundreds of group members.

Participants are often encouraged to give around 10 yuan on a daily basis to those projects and some "high-end" groups demand thousands of yuan each time.

Unsurprisingly, none of the people in chat these groups have ever received any of the money they were promised, nor do they know where the money they give ends up, the Beijing News reported.

The show

To make their scheme more credible, swindlers forge documents with official-looking stamps on them to increase credibility.

Those documents faked by the people scamming Li's mother include a money order from Citibank worth $469 billion and also a written notice authorizing the fraudsters to coordinate a press conference with the stamps of the State Council and the "national asset managing committee," an organization which does not exist.

The fraudsters even edited a photo taken at a discipline inspection conference at the People's Bank of China, by changing the words on the backdrop of the conference.

Almost all those WeChat groups involved in "national fortune" schemes heavily emphasize their patriotism.

Group members need to send a message to the chat group each morning to "take attendance," and the group will then have a "flag-raising ceremony" with the head sending a voice message of the national anthem.

The chat groups also hold nightly lectures, with the lecturers telling their story and understanding of "patriotism, opportunity and success," other members are also required to share their opinions after the lecture.

The loss

These "national fortune" scams have existed for years, but their range of activity has expanded with the spread of WeChat, which reduces the swindlers' costs, facilitates their access to a wider range of victims and also makes police's detection harder.

On September 14, a district procuratorate in Huainan, East China's Anhui Province approved the arrest of 18 suspects involved in a "national fortune" scam, which swindled thousands of people from 30 provinces of more than 100 million yuan.

Chinese police solved 933 pyramid scheme cases involving a total of 4.15 billion yuan ($626 million) in the first half of 2016, the Ministry of Public Security said on August 18, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Li told The Beijing News that they have received numerous calls for help involving "national fortune" schemes. Unlike traditional pyramid schemes whose business models are easy to refute, it's hard to talk the elderly out of these scams as they play on their patriotic sentiments, said Li.

In the scenarios of the fraudsters, those elder people are "soldiers without a uniform" and what they are doing is "building a Great Wall against foreign enemies" and "contributing to the great national renewal."

The Beijing News - Global Times

Newspaper headline: Patriotic pyramid

Posted in: SOCIETY

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