Indonesian police have apprehended 88 Chinese citizens in connection with a cross-border telephone and online romance scam syndicate. Acting on a tip from the Chinese security ministry, authorities arrested the suspects, including five women, on Batam island, located near Singapore. The individuals were operating from a shophouse in an industrial park. Preliminary investigations suggest that the syndicate targeted fellow Chinese nationals, manipulating their emotions to trick them into transferring money. The gang is believed to have been active since early this year, with the exact amount of money collected still unknown.
The suspects, who cannot speak or write Indonesian, are thought to be members of a larger telephone fraud and online love scam network. They had been entering Indonesia on tourist visas for three-month periods since January, after their operations in China were disrupted. Indonesian police are collaborating closely with officials from China’s Ministry of Public Security to handle the case. The investigation is ongoing, including efforts to determine if any Indonesians were victimized. If no local victims are found, the suspects will be deported.
Romance-related scams, such as the one perpetrated by this syndicate, have been a significant concern globally. The United States Federal Trade Commission reported in 2019 that romance scams resulted in more financial losses than any other consumer fraud. Criminals typically target victims online, often through dating sites or social media, creating fake profiles and establishing trust before requesting money for various reasons, such as medical emergencies or travel expenses.
A recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights shed light on the prevalence of cybercrime scams in Southeast Asia. It revealed that criminal gangs have coerced hundreds of thousands of people, including those in Myanmar and Cambodia, into participating in unlawful online scams, including romance schemes, investment fraud, and illegal gambling. The report also highlighted the exploitation of vulnerable individuals who are trapped in virtual slavery and forced to engage in scams targeting people over the internet.
Indonesia has previously dealt with similar cases involving Chinese citizens. In 2017, 419 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals were arrested for their involvement in a telephone fraud and online investment scam syndicate. After spending two months in Indonesian jails and being fined for violating their tourist visas, they were repatriated to face charges in their home countries. In 2019, Indonesian police arrested 85 Chinese citizens in connection with a similar case.