Chinese syndicates and threat actors are committing cybercrimes in neighbouring countries, including theft of personal information, cross-border gambling, e-commerce scams, romance scams, and APT, sources in Indian intelligence agencies have said.
According to the sources, the recent tightening of laws in China against gambling, money laundering, pornography, and other cyber-related issues has led to a significant increase in such crimes outside the country, especially in its neighbouring Myanmar, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.
Chinese syndicates, residing in neighbouring countries, have escalated their involvement in various virtual crimes, including stealing personally identifiable information, illegitimate gambling and related crimes, fraud, e-commerce scams, and APT and related cybercrimes.
PII – Theft and sale
Threat actors steal PII through various tactics, techniques, and procedures such as key-loggers and info-stealers, banking web injects, spam and phishing attacks, sniffers, and database breaches.
The harvested information can be then utilised in identity theft, social engineering, account takeover, phishing/spear phishing, business email compromise (BEC), credential stuffing and brute force attacks, or phone-related scams. Threat actors have been noticed to work in groups and sell PII in Chinese-language dark web marketplaces.
Chinese syndicate and gambling
According to the sources, after the Chinese government increased strictness against cross-border gambling, Chinese syndicates residing in neighbouring countries significantly increased targeting of Chinese nationals for gambling.
Chinese nationals based in foreign countries are invited for staff jobs with promising salaries through social media and messaging sites as the same is illegal in China. The credibility of these jobs, however, is under question as the valid employment passes are extremely limited as opposed to the volume of employees hired.
There have been many instances where these Chinese nationals were later subjected to human trafficking, enslavement, torture, physical and emotional abuse, etc. Chinese-speaking groups from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand are often targeted for online gambling through social media campaigns.
Gambling scam in the Philippines – Pastillas scheme
According to the intelligence inputs, every incoming Chinese national pays a service charge of P10,000 ($200). From this amount, P2,000 ($40) would be distributed to representatives of the Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) Travel Control and Enforcement Unit, the immigration supervisor, and the terminal head on duty.
The remaining compensation is further distributed to tour companies and syndicates that ferry Chinese people from the airport to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) locations.
Upon hearing in the senate on the case, it was revealed that an estimated P10 billion ($198.67 million) in bribes were allegedly given to unscrupulous immigration authorities.
Additionally, a significant portion of the airport immigration workers was discovered to be deployed under the payroll of POGOs.
Gambling scam in Cambodia – Human trafficking
Sources to News18 said that foreign employees and visitors who were drawn in by social media ads offering lucrative positions in contact centres or who were trapped in the nation owing to the Covid lockdown were subjected to passport seizure, human trafficking, and forced labour in sophisticated internet frauds.
In one of these cases, in February 2022, a Chinese man was persuaded to travel to Cambodia by false employment advertising and detained there as a “blood slave” for several months.
Beginning in August 2021, the man’s kidnappers reportedly removed 27 ounces (about 800 ml) of blood each month, leaving him with only enough blood to restock; the blood was apparently sold online to unidentified customers.
Gambling scam in Myanmar
Chinese syndicates use tempting job postings on local social media platforms to entice Chinese nationals from the Chinese mainland to northern Myanmar. The passports of these incoming Chinese nationals in Myanmar are taken, and they are made to serve as mercenaries, fraudsters, prostitutes, or drug traffickers.
Due to unrest and harsh economic conditions, large Chinese illegal gangs operate in northern Myanmar, employing it as a platform for well-organised telecom and online scams as well as for hosting illicit casinos.
More than 100,000 Chinese citizens are actively engaged in telecom fraud in the area, and scam ring leaders are enticing additional victims to participate in online gambling schemes, claims the Global Anti-Scam Organization.
Chinese threat actors and online romance scams
More than 170 people who were involved in cybercrimes were detained by Hangzhou police in May 2021. Utilising dating and messaging apps, several crimes comprised “naked chat blackmail”, “investment frauds”, and “phishing trojans”.
Similar to CryptoRom campaign, the targets are approached on online dating platforms using genuine-looking profiles which are created for the sole purpose of scamming people. The conversation then moves to private messaging apps where the threat actors attempt to engage the target in unreliable investments or naked chat sessions.
The victim then either faces loss in their shady investments or are blackmailed by the threat actors with their nude images and videos taken during the naked chat sessions.
To address these concerns, the Indian government has taken precautionary measures by banning various Chinese-linked apps involved in online fraud and other security breaches. The latest measure was taken on February 4.
The cybercrime rate has seen a significant spike in the past year, primarily due to adverse economic conditions and the tightening of laws related to cross-border gambling, money laundering, and pornographic censorship. Experts predict that these crimes will only continue to increase and are calling on relevant authorities to conduct thorough investigations into the matter.
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