The other day my wife got a call from a woman claiming to be from Taishin Bank, who said someone, Mrs. X, was trying to clear out the $900,000 we have there. Except we don’t have an account there…. The woman spoke in mandarin with a Taiwan accent, but after a few minutes as my wife drew her out, interested to see how the scammer was going to get her to an ATM, her mandarin quickly became more like mainland style. After they switched my wife to “the manager” my wife could hear others in the background of what was obviously a single large room, reading from the same script in mainland-accented Chinese, telling others that Mrs. X was cleaning out their $900K at Taishin Bank…

The Straits Times reports on the successful prosecution of a Taiwanese in connection with the kidnap scams that have become in vogue in Asia over the last few years. In these a caller pretending to be a kidnapper of your child demands that money be transferred immediately to an account. In the background you can hear the tearful voice of your child. We’ve gotten kidnapping scam calls several times, with “my son” in the background calling for me in Chinese, a language he doesn’t speak. The Straits Times reports:

These scams involve callers pretending to have kidnapped a victim’s relative and demanding a money transfer. They are rampant worldwide.

Between last August and May 9 this year, 15 people here have been conned of more than $150,000 with these scams. They lost between $500 and $49,000 each.

When the scams first surfaced last August, 20 cases were reported. This grew to 186 in last month alone.

Taiwanese Lee Chin Lung, 36, was not one of the masterminds, but was used as a conduit, transferring money to beneficiaries in China.

According to Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi, Lee had responded to a job advertisement in Taiwan and was flown here on Dec 16 by his ‘Big Boss’. Here, he met another man, known to him only as Ah Kai, who told him they were in the soccer betting business.

Ah Kai said he needed bank accounts into which punters who had sustained losses could make payments.

He told Lee to look for Chinese nationals with bank accounts here and to withdraw and deliver the money to him.

Lee found three willing parties. In a span of about three weeks, a total of $77,500 was deposited into their accounts. Lee then withdrew and remitted the money to various beneficiaries in China.

Details of the scam came out in court last Wednesday, when Lee pleaded guilty and was jailed for 18 months.

So many in Taiwan have been hurt by these scams, which are especially common when schools open after summer vacation, since kids go off to new schools that their parents are not familiar with. It is a public disgrace that the government has not been more aggressive in warning the public about them. A sustained campaign would have little cost but would return immense benefits to the public.