Do Not Allow Taiwan to Become the "Land of the Scam"
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 15, 2011
Can it be that people on Taiwan truly have active imaginations, and are full of invention? Taiwan's soft power has enabled it to shine on the international stage. Native Taiwanese phone fraud has gone global. Practitioners have spread their wings and are now notorious throughout the world. But this is hardly something to be proud of, The government agencies in charge must arrest the perpetrators. The legislature should consider amending the law, increasing penalties for offenders. Above all, we must not allow Taiwan to acquire a reputation as "the land of the scam artist."
The past two days have presented us with scenarios straight out of "Con Air." Large numbers of suspects have been boarded onto planes and escorted back to Taiwan. The "0310" cross-Strait, transnational anti-fraud sweep has yielded results. Both sides of the Taiwan Strait, along with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have engaged in seldom encountered cross-border police cooperation. As many as 598 suspects have been hauled into court. Among them, 410 were from Taiwan, 181 were from the Chinese mainland, three were from Thailand, two were from Korea, and one each were from Vietnam and Cambodia.
The 122 Taiwanese suspects hauled into court in Cambodia, and the 101 Taiwanese suspects hauled into court in Indonesia, have already been returned to Taiwan. Police uncovered at least 20 different criminal organizations engaged in phone fraud, via three different Internet Service Providers. Actually, this is probably not the whole picture. The racket is simply too lucrative. Many "soldiers" among organized crime have laid down their swords and picked up their telephones, and are raking in a fortune by means of phone fraud.
Phone fraud originated in Taiwan. Con artists came up with all sorts of dirty tricks. They phone family members, telling them a loved one has been kidnapped, or been hurt in a car accident. They say the loved one's bank book or drivers license has been stolen and misused. They pretend to be the police or prosecutors. Their methods continue to evolve, One really has to admire their ingenuity. Many people are not victims of greed. They are merely trying to protect family members or their own property. But they often wind up losing their hard-earned life savings. They often find it difficult to go on living.
Rampant phone fraud has exacted a heavy price on the Taiwan public. But it has also made theem vigilant. Even government agencies have received such phone calls, informing those who answer, that they have won prizes. The officials, realizing the calls are scams, hang up. Scam artists are finding it more and more difficult to con the public on Taiwan. The police are cracking down, As a result, scam artists have transferred their operations overseas. They have exported Taiwan's rich and varied confidence games to foreign countries.
in recent years, according to the National Police Agency, scam artists from Taiwan have "fled to Southeast Asia in order to scam both sides of the Taiwan Strait." They have "formed local alliances, and vanished into nothingness." They have"shifted their battleground throughout the South Seas." Since then, similar phone scams have appeared in other countries, including Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and even Latin America. But the most seriously affected are people on the Chinese mainland, who are not yet alert to their tricks.
Hundreds of suspects have been ceremoniously returned to Taiwan. Transnational anti-fraud efforts have been fruitful. But what next?
The penalties for con games are much too lenient. Prime suspects in con games are often been sentenced to only one or two years. Accomplices are often sentenced to less than six months. They can easily afford the fines. Many groups recruit young people as part time labor. This leads to absurd situations in which youths appear to be the masterminds behind the scams, as well as the prosecutors. If criminal behavior is discovered overseas, the lightest punishment should be no less than three years.
Earlier this year, the Philippines sent 14 suspects from Taiwan to the Chinese mainland. This provoked serious protests on Taiwan. But as the Philippines noted, it previously arrested a group of suspects from Taiwan. Upon their return to Taiwan, the authorities could do nothing. They got off, scot free. As a result, the Philippines feels that suspects repatriated to Taiwan cannot be effectively prosecuted.
This is something we must improve. Scam artists now range far and wide. The number of victims is huge. The sums of money involved are enormous. They have already inflicted serious harm upon the social order. They have undermined Taiwan's international image. We cling to outdated laws. We punish perpetrators with mere detention or fines amounting to a few tens of thousands of NT dollars. We let con artists off with a hand slap. Even high-profile suspects skate by, unpunished. This is a betrayal of hard working prosecutors and police. This is a betrayal of the con artists' many victims. This cannot deter such scams in the future.
Prosecutors have now decided to treat each violation as a separate offense. This increases the sentence for criminal suspects. But from a rule of law perspective, the laws should be strengthened at their source. This should be the basis for punishment. The penalties for phone fraud, like the penalties for the adulteration of food with plasticizers, are too light. No consideration has been given to the serious long term effects upon society. Individual crimes may not be that serious. But taken together, they inflict serious harm upon the social order. Perpetrators may be emboldened because the penalties are so light. Under the circumstances, the laws must be swiftly amended to ensure severe punishment, Only this can meet society's expectations.