PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Officials in Cambodia said Friday they have arrested 175 Chinese citizens after a tipoff from Chinese police about their suspected involvement in an internet phone scam.
The Interior Ministry's immigration investigation chief, Gen. Ouk Haiseila, said the suspects were arrested Wednesday in the western town of Poipet on the Thai border.
The arrests are the latest in a crackdown in the region on Chinese gangs that make phone calls made over the internet to extort or trick people into transferring money to them.
There have been similar cases in the past few weeks in Thailand and Indonesia. Most of the targets appear to be fellow Chinese, and suspects are generally quickly deported to China. Chinese police often take part in raids on the gangs.
Since 2012, almost 1,000 Chinese and Taiwanese accused of taking part in internet scams have been arrested in Cambodia and deported to China. Recent raids in the capital, Phnom Penh, captured several dozen people, but others have been arrested in recent years in Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces and the seaside town of Sihanoukville, where 166 suspects were detained in coordinated raids in November 2015.
The suspects in the latest raid apparently used the same tactics as a gang of 31 arrested last month in Phnom Penh.
In that case, the gang allegedly contacted women over social media and tricked them into exchanging nude or sexy photos, and then extorted money from them by threatening to circulate the pictures online.
Ouk Haiseila said that in addition to seizing telecommunications equipment in Poipet, police found documents with the names of several thousand potential victims.
He said the suspects told interrogators that fellow Chinese lured them to Cambodia to work as goods promoters or in offices, but after they arrived, they were trained in IT skills such as using the internet to make phone calls.
Last month, police in neighboring Thailand arrested 44 people — 19 Chinese citizens and 25 Taiwanese — who they said made internet calls in which they claimed to be banking officials and accused their targets of financial crimes.
The targets would then be put in touch with a fake policeman — also at the gang's headquarters — and told they could escape arrest by transferring the allegedly stolen money to a bank account belonging to the scam artists.
The same scheme was allegedly used in Indonesia, where police arrested 153 suspects last month.
A major issue in such arrests, which normally end in deportation, is where the suspects are deported to. Although Taiwan maintains it is independent, Taiwanese suspects have often been deported to China, a measure of China's diplomatic influence backing its claim that Taiwan is part of its territory.