‘Paparazzi’ getting taken for a ride at spy schools

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‘Paparazzi’ getting taken for a ride at spy schools

Some private institutions have come under attack from the government for unfairly taking advantage of people’s desire to cash in by recording the lawbreaking activities of others.

The number of people who were financially exploited by academies that teach them how to capture wrongdoers in action without being spotted themselves has jumped recently, according to the Fair Trade Commission (FTC).

These citizen “paparazzi” - de facto bounty hunters motivated by government rewards - prey on offenders who engage in all manner of misdemeanors. They include illegally dumping trash, locking emergency exits, falsifying the origin of a food product and operating private training academies, or hagwon, past 10 p.m.

The maximum reward for reporting unauthorized private tuition is 5 million won ($4,394) while reporting on illegal job agencies can net them 1 million won.

At present, local and central government institutions are running a total of 971 reward programs that offer roughly 10 billion won each year. This has prompted some of the part-time paparazzi to give up their day jobs in order to become full-time bounty hunters.

The FTC said last year that complaints surrounding the training centers have gone up from 11 in 2010 to 46 in 2011. In the first three months of this year, 11 cases were reported.

In most cases, such institutions forced the students to buy cheap cameras and camcorders for exorbitant prices, made false advertisement about potential earnings to attract students, and refused to refund tuition fees.

In one case, a man in Daegu was tricked into buying a camcorder worth 500,000 won for 1.6 million won after he already forked out 250,000 won for a class on surveillance. The instructor said the camcorder was necessary for practical training.

However, at the moment the government has no jurisdiction to prosecute such institutions. As such, it advises people who sign up for such class to take precautions.

“These institutions are not registered, which means there are no measures for the government or commission to regulate,” said Kim Jeong-gi, director of the FTC’s consumer safety division.

“We don’t know how many are out there, so individuals should be extra careful not to be deceived.”

Additionally, due to manipulation of the system by some of the paparazzi, the government said not all of them are financially rewarded.

By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]
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