Voice phishing scams employ sinister tactics

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Voice phishing scams employ sinister tactics

A man in his 60s was found dead in a garden in front of an apartment building in Gyeonggi late last month, and police believe he took his own life after voice phishing scammers stole his life savings.

According to the police, a man disguising himself as a prosecutor called the victim and told him that his personal information was leaked. Following instructions from the swindler, the victim transferred 690 million won ($590,197), his entire fortune, to a “safe account.” The family of the deceased said he was distressed after losing such a large amount of money.

Police found a will that said he was sorry to his family at his house. CCTV footage around the area did not show anything that suggested foul play.

According to the Financial Supervisory Service, an average of 134 people fall victim to voice phishing scams each day. Total damages related to the scams amounted to 444 billion won last year. The number of victims who lost over 100 million won is currently increasing.

A man in his 40s in Ansan, Gyeonggi, also fell victim to a similar scam in April. He received a call from a person pretending to be a prosecutor who said his personal information was used to make a “burner” bank account, and that they had to check whether he was involved. The person told the victim to give the money in his bank account to a Financial Supervisory Service worker who would visit him shortly. He handed over 620 million won in cash to the swindler.

“Voice phishing scams target everyone, regardless of their age or sex,” said a police worker. “But middle-aged people and seniors are susceptible to more damages than younger people as they have more [financial] assets.”

The Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency analyzed 5,883 cases of voice phishing from 2018 and found that scams that lured victims with loans were the most common, with 5,076 cases amounting to 50.6 billion won. These involved swindlers impersonating bank and financial institution workers, offering low-interest loans or credit rating upgrades. Scams that impersonate agencies were second on the list with 807 cases. Swindlers lured victims to transfer their assets by impersonating prosecutors or investigative agencies. Of the methods for transferring funds, bank account transactions were used most frequently at 92.6 percent.

Scams luring victims to install mobile apps that contain viruses are also on the rise. Swindlers send messages notifying people that they purchased an item and a certain amount was charged to their phones or credit cards. When people reply, complaining that they have not bought anything, the swindlers warn them that their personal information was leaked. The swindlers then impersonate an investigative agency and tell the victims to install an app that is part of the investigation. The app redirects calls to the swindlers whenever the victim tries to call the police or prosecution, making it impossible for victims to contact the authorities through their phone.

“Financial institutions or investigating authorities never demand personal information,” said a worker at the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency. “Always hang up on suspicious calls and never open messages on your mobile phone that try to lead you to install an app or open a link to a URL.”

BY CHOI MO-RAN, JUNG MYUNG-SUK [jung.myungsuk@joongang.co.kr]
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