Police in Spain have shut down 13 call centres used by Chinese criminals to swindle millions of euros from families back in their home country.
Raids coordinated by both Spanish and Chinese officers resulted in the arrest of more than 200 Chinese nationals, who operated the mass fraud from luxury villas in Alicante, Barcelona and Madrid.
The gang contacted victims in China pretending to be friends or family warning of various scams. Other members would then call back posing as police officers, and convince victims to transfer money into bank accounts the group controlled under the pretence that doing so would assist investigations into the aforementioned fraud.
It is thought the gang conned €16 million out of its victims before it was broken up, according to Chinese officials, who said they now plan to seek the extradition of its members so as they can be prosecuted on Chinese soil.
Eloy Quiros, National Police Commissioner, told a news conference: “We are talking about thousands of Chinese citizens, mainly poor families who were robbed of their modest savings and which led some victims to commit suicide.”
Police said up to 50 operatives manned each call centre at any one time, working in secrecy and “without interruption and rest”. All of those arrested arrived in Spain on tourist visas and stayed in the country.
More than 600 police officers participated in the operation, which was the culmination of an investigation launched after Chinese authorities alerted their Spanish counterparts to the fact that scam calls were being made to people in China from Spain.
Speaking with the AP news agency, Police Commissioner Eugenio Pereiro said the fraud operation used to be run from Taiwan, but is now based on five continents, with a particularly strong presence in Armenia and Greece.
Phone fraud is a huge problem in China, despite a massive government crackdown aimed at tackling the issue. The potential consequences of the crime were highlighted by the recent death of prospective university student Xu Yuyu, who died of a heart attack after she was conned out of her tuition fees. Fraudsters contacted the 18-year-old pretending to be from the “education ministry”, and convinced her to transfer the money to a bank account under their control.
It is thought that thousands of phone scammers based in call centres all over the world are targeting Chinese nationals pretending to government officials in an effort to con money out of their victims. Phone fraud is purported to have cost victims billions of yuan, and has led to numerous suicides.
Chinese authorities claim to have arrested nearly 8,000 phone fraudsters since 2011, but experts believe the majority of suspects detained for the crime are low-level operatives, and that the heads of the organised groups behind the scam are in most cases able to avoid capture.