MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine authorities have arrested 16 Taiwanese in connection with an online scam that mostly targeted retirees living in China and Taiwan, an official said Wednesday.
The suspects pretended to be bank employees and persuaded victims to reveal their account numbers and ohther details, said Ronald Aguto, chief of the Computer Crimes Division of the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation.
He said suspects called retirees and told them their accounts had been compromised and must be upgraded or changed. Others represented themselves as prosecutors and persuaded their victims to settle nonexistent complaints by depositing money to a syndicate's account, he said.
The suspects, 15 males and one female, were arrested Tuesday in three separate houses inside the Subic Bay Freeport, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Manila, Aguto said.
He said the group used Internet telephone connections and read from prepared scripts when talking to the victims.
"When they think they could not convince the person, they would say, 'Somebody will call you,' or, 'You can call this number of the prosecutor's office or another branch of government,' ... and they have another script for that," Aguto said.
He said his bureau was tipped off by a concerned citizen and the scam had been going on for two months. Agents recovered computers, telephones and fake credit cards, some of them still blank, he said.
Philippine police arrested and deported nearly 300 Taiwanese and Chinese nationals involved in a similar scam last year. Aguto said the syndicate continued to operate in small cells, including the one busted this week.
He said that the suspects face charges of illegal use of electronic access devices such as ATM and credit cards. A more comprehensive anti-cybercrime law is still under review by the Supreme Court.
If convicted, each suspect could face six to 20 years in prison. In last year's cases, however, the Philippine government sent Taiwanese suspects to their home country to face charges there, at Taiwan's request.