Hi-tech scams boom as ignorance, greed make for easy prey

By Staff reporters   October 8, 2022 | 05:32 am PT
Hi-tech scams boom as ignorance, greed make for easy prey
Scams committed via phone calls and messages have been common in Vietnam. Illustration photo by VnExpress/Luu Quy
There has been no shortage of cyberspace fraud warnings in Vietnam for several years now, but the number of people falling for scams and losing their money keeps rising.

Experts say that ignorance and greed are major factors that the scammers can count on to lure increasing number of victims into sophisticated traps.

Her eagerness to get a "simple, profitable job that could be done at home" cost Vu Thi Thuong, a 24-year-old pregnant worker in Thu Duc City, HCMC, her entire savings of VND80 million ($3,350).

In mid-June, Thuong accepted an online invitation on social media while she was looking for a part-time job. The job sounded simple and lucrative: getting purchase orders on an e-commerce platform for high commissions. However, after spending tens of millions of Vietnamese dong, she failed to contact the "recruiters."

"I was fooled," she told VnExpress. Thuong has not dared to tell her husband what happened yet even, though she is desolate and desperate about recovering the money.

The deceivers have cleverly exploited the popularity of online purchasing platforms. They pretend to be human resource staff from well-known digital commercial companies like Shopee, Lazada, Tiki, and Sendo, luring people by making rewarding offers through SMS and social media platforms. When people agree, they are added to closed groups on Zalo or Telegram for "business practice."

The people are told to purchase low-value orders with their own money to "increase companies' inter-activeness." They would receive their advance payment back with an attractive commission of up to 20%. The scammers would pay good money at first to build trust. Next, higher commissions are offered to entice gullible people, as long as the latter accepts to pay for more pricey goods.

After large payments are made, the scammers would blame the victims for facile reasons like typos in commands and fine them or refuse to pay back the advance. The fraudsters would continue persuading the victims to spend more to recover all the money they had spent until they ran out of money or recognized that they were being cheated. In the end, all the victims were blocked and they would have no way of contacting the fraudsters.

In July, the Ministry of Public Security claimed that the number of cyber fraud victims had significantly increased since early 2022. There was a 42 percent increase in the number of cases compared to the last six months of 2021, the ministry said.

According to the National Cyber Portal’s data, nearly 3,500 cases of fraud were reported by Vietnamese internet users from February to July 2022.

Since early 2022, fraudulent content has been widely prevalent on social media and SMS, sent from strange numbers or Apple ID addresses, offering part-time jobs paying dozens of millions of dong or more a month.

New mothers, students, and freelance workers who seek extra money in their spare time are common victims, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication.

Vietnamese authorities are scrambling to trace and capture such criminals despite the challenges posed by the use of advanced technologies.

In June 2022, police arrested a gang led by a Chinese who had used the same plot to swindle VND5 billion from 40 victims in two months.

Impersonating banks

The imitation of banks for fraud also increased in the first half of 2022.

"We get reports of 2-3 new fake domains every day," Ngo Minh Hieu, a specialist at Vietnam's National Cybersecurity Center, had said in August.

The organization identified nearly 30 fake domains impersonating big financial organizations and banks in Vietnam over two weeks in late July 2022, Hieu told VnExpress.

Such tricks have fooled a large number of bank users. They receive SMS messages under the banks’ brand names with embedded links. These messages request clients to click the links to get rewards, unsubscribe from ads or pay for fees that they had never used.

Investigators explain that the scammers exploit technological loopholes to insert fake SMS into the official message stream of popular banks (or SMS Brandname). Thousands of clients have believed in the counterfeit content and clicked on the links. The users are fooled by fake interfaces made to look the same as authentic ones.

If the victims insert all information asked for, their bank accounts will be dispossessed. Money in the accounts will be immediately withdrawn or transferred elsewhere.

In August 2022, the Department of Information Security blocked 163 fake websites. This was 89.5 percent more than the same period last year.

The affected banks and financial companies constantly warn their customers about the tricks used in order to raise their awareness and put them on guard.

MoMo, an e-wallet service, alerted customers that some scammers have impersonated the company, sending emails to users offering a "VND1,999,000 reward." Techcombank, VPBank, TPBank and other establishments have also informed their clients of similar ruses.

Fraudulent stock and cryptocurrency apps

The new form of deceit has become rife as interest in stock and cryptocurrency investment has increased in recent years.

The criminals feign their crypto and stock market platforms, as well as thousands of accounts on Zalo or Telegram. They seek potential prey on Facebook groups of stock and crypto investments, and lure them with the promise of high gains of up to several hundred percent a month.

In closed groups of Zalo or Telegram, members often get to see people making a lot of money, but many of these are fake users.

The scammers also pay the victims high returns for their initial investments as promised to enhance credibility. Later, the victims are constantly encouraged to make bigger investments to get rich like others in the groups.

If the users decline to do this, their previous investment would be announced lost.

There are heightened warnings from relevant agencies about "international stock or forex markets" in Vietnam like StockX, Qbig Invest, Hnxet.com, Wefinex, Raidenbo, Bitono, Pocinex, Deniex, Fxtradingmarket, GardenBO and Hitoption.

However, say MPS inspectors, ignorance and greed make it easy for scammers to use sophisticated means to cheat the gullible of their money.

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