Analysis: S. Korea groans with prevalent financial scams

By Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, (PNA/Xinhua) — A company worker in South Korea received a text message on his smartphone. The message read that anyone who wants emergency funds can easily access a credit line in banks by making just a call to the phone number stated in the message.

The 36-year-old man, who was ardently looking for the banks’ credit line to pay back another debt, immediately called the number, but the swindler posing as a consultant at a major local bank refused to give him the credit line due to his low credit rating.

The scammer proposed that his financial credibility would be upgraded if he, surnamed Lee, creates fake records of financial transactions by borrowing 20 million won (US$ 18,600) and repaying it a day later. The bogus consultant said that such transactions can prove his debt-servicing capability to be enhanced.

Lee sent his personal and financial information, including bank account details and a copy of identification card, to the swindler via fax and e-mail. Lee borrowed from a secondary moneylender 20 million won with a super-high lending rate of around 30 percent, and remitted the money to the scammer who absconded with his money.

“I had rather kill myself,” Lee said in a recent interview with Xinhua. “I just wanted to get a credit line to refinance debts of 5 million won, but my combined debts quintupled to 25 million won in an instant.”

According to data by the National Policy Agency, the number of phone fraud cases reduced 30.7 percent on-year to 5,709 in 2012. Damages from the phone-based financial scams, also known as voice phising, sank 41.6 percent to 59.5 billion won (US$ 55.4 million) last year.

The decline stemmed from news media’s active revelation of fraud cases, enhanced public awareness, preventive measures to tackle phone fraud and intensive clampdown on such scams, according to the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS), the country’ s financial watchdog.

To reduce phone frauds, the FSS introduced measures in 2012 such as delaying large-sum withdrawal from bank accounts and reinforcing identification process.

Banks sent out notices to clients about fraud cases to help them avoid such scams. A special law was passed in 2011 to enable victims to retrieve their stolen money with no need to undergo legal procedures that may take up to one year to restore their funds.

Despite the falling phone scams, new types of financial scam such as pharming have been on the rise, resulting in the still high number of victims suffering from financial frauds.

Pharming refers to a scam that uses a malicious code designed by hackers, which is automatically downloaded onto a user’s personal computer. The malware leads the user to a bogus Website even though he or she correctly types in the bank’s online address.

“Phone frauds reduced. But, new and mutant types of scams such as pharming are rising,” Jang Hong-jae, head of micro-credit fraud monitoring team at FSS, said in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.

SMishing, a compound of short message services (SMS) and phising, spread malware through mobile phone texts, and Twishing sends a Twitter user a message with a malicious code that fraudulently obtain personal and financial information to withdraw money from bank accounts.

Voice phising targets one at a time, but the Internet-based scams such as pharming trick a group of people into logging in to a fake Website where they are asked to upgrade personal information such as bank account details, passwords and resident registration numbers.

“You can access ATMs almost everywhere. Almost everyone uses smartphone. Scammers play blind spots of well-built infrastructure, ” said Jang, noting that the FSS unveiled measures to counter the Internet-based scams.

Last month, the financial watchdog instructed financial companies to strengthen identification process for online transaction. An online banking user must receive an authentication number via a text message and type in the number correctly to get online access to the desired bank account.

The same verification should be applied to the large-sum withdrawal that exceeds 3 million won per day. “Above all, people should not be tricked. If duped, report to the police and ask the suspension of payment from the account as rapidly as possible. Then, you can prevent scammers from withdrawing the money sent,” said Jang.

“People should always pay much attention to the cyber fraud. No one can be an exception,” he warned.