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Bangkok Post – Surveying efforts to halt cybercrime | #cybercrime | #computerhacker

The DES minister attributes the inability to control online scams to more sophisticated strategies.

Despite attempts by state authorities to suppress cybercrime, the number of cases and damage have yet to decline as fraudsters continue to devise increasingly sophisticated ways to deceive people.

Why has cybercrime continued unabated?

According to Prasert Jantararuangthong, the digital economy and society (DES) minister, the number of cybercrime cases remains constant and damage averages 100 million baht daily, though the ministry’s Anti-Online Scam Operation Centre (AOC) was established as a one-stop service point to tackle rampant online scams.

He attributed the ongoing online scams to more sophisticated strategies.

More importantly, there is not seamless integration among all relevant agencies working to reduce online crime, said Mr Prasert.

“Handling online scammers and preventing damage cannot be accomplished by some agencies. A concerted effort is needed by all state agencies to create comprehensive protection,” he said.

A source in the telecom industry who requested anonymity said one crucial issue is the “full-circuit connection”, as Thai telecom operators install underground cables near border areas and expand into neighbouring countries through cooperative agreements with local companies in those nations.

This infrastructure is meant to lower telecom costs for clients under these agreements, but these connections are being used by scammers to make calls to phone numbers in Thailand, said the source.

What measures have been implemented?

In the past, state authorities introduced a series of efforts to deal with cybercrime, such as measures suppressing mule accounts and mule SIM cards.

These included the removal of illegal telecom towers, internet cable and telephone lines along border areas.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has been working on mule SIM cards. The commission requested people with more than 100 SIM cards to re-register them and verify their identities by Feb 14 this year.

Some 2.57 million card owners verified their identities. The DES Ministry and Royal Thai Police deactivated more than 800,000 mule SIM cards.

Recently Google Thailand partnered with the DES Ministry to launch initiatives to keep Thais safe online.

An enhanced Google Play Protect feature safeguards Android mobile phone users against scams and financial fraud. The feature blocks the installation of potentially risky “sideloaded” apps.

Sideloading is the installation of software or apps from other downloaded sources that are not authorised.

The feature was rolled out to users in Thailand, the second country after Singapore.

Google also has multiple layers of built-in protections on Android and Google Play, including spam protection in messages, safe browsing on Chrome, and Google Play Protect, which now includes real-time scanning.

What new measures can consumers expect in the future?

Mr Prasert held a meeting on April 9 with related authorities to deal with call centre gangs, aiming to suppress all forms of online crime.

The meeting included representatives from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), NBTC, Bank of Thailand, Thai Bankers’ Association, Anti-Money Laundering Office, Department of Special Investigation, Royal Thai Police, Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry, and Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The meeting follows an order by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on April 1 that related state authorities show concrete results of their crackdown on rampant online fraud within 30 days. This fraud includes call centre scams, illegal online gambling and fake news.

The meeting called for several measures to tackle cybercrime and call centre scams, but Mr Prasert acknowledged everything could not be accomplished within 30 days, as some measures require agencies to revise their rules.

The state agencies also asked the Office of the Consumer Protection Board to revise rules related to cash on delivery to prevent scams from the sale of online products. Progress on this revision is expected by May.

Relevant agencies were also instructed to accelerate their data integration. The DES Ministry and the AOC are expected to co-host the integration.

All agencies must submit related information to the AOC and the ministry, such as mule accounts, mule SIM cards, suspected URL/Line information of gambling websites, or other information the AOC requests.

The meeting on Tuesday also assigned the Royal Thai Police to prepare an action plan to suppress call centre gangs and online crime, devising a clear goal.

The DES Ministry and Royal Thai Police are expected to seek cooperation with neighbouring countries to solve online crime problems. They are also instructed to ask the Department of Provincial Administration to survey migrants living in Thailand and report the information to the AOC, which will examine whether the migrants are members of call centre gangs.

How many scams are occurring in Thailand?

According to the Royal Thai Police, there were 461,044 cybercrime cases from March 1, 2022 to March 15, 2024, resulting in damage of 63.6 billion baht.

The scam with the highest amount of damages was tricking people into making an online investment, with 37,829 cases and damage of 20.7 billion baht.

Call centre scams totalled 31,184 cases with damage of 7.84 billion baht.

There were 59,187 reported cases where victims transferred money to scammers in exchange for jobs, resulting in damage of 7.4 billion baht, and 3,558 cases related to digital assets with damage of 3.67 billion baht.

During the period, victims requested 294,097 suspicious bank accounts be frozen with a value of 20 billion baht, of which 4.87 billion was frozen.

In the 2023 Asia Fraud Annual Report by Whoscall, an app that identifies unknown callers and prevents smartphone scams, scam attempts in Thailand increased by 12.2 million from 2022.

The report found Thailand is the biggest target for SMS scams in Asia, receiving 58 million suspicious messages throughout the year.

Scammers used fake links, fake log-in requests, prompts to download malicious software and fake one-page shopping sites in their attempts to trick users.

Though scams decreased in Asia and globally, the study found Thais are at greater risk than ever of online fraud, with 79 million fraudulent calls and scam SMS messages attempted, an 18% increase from 66.7 million attempts in 2022.

Last year Thais received 20.8 million scam calls, up by 22% from 17 million in 2022.

Fraudulent SMS messages increased by 17% to 58 million in 2023.

Thais have the highest risk of SMS fraud in Asia. Whoscall reported Thais received an average of 20.3 fraudulent SMS messages last year, followed by the Philippines with 19.3 and Hong Kong 16.2.

Fraudulent SMS scams in Thailand focus on online gambling and loans, attracting victims with phrases such as “new username”, “free giveaways” and “get 500 baht free when making your first deposit”.

In addition, scammers also started impersonating government agencies, such as the electricity authority.

The annual report warned about such tactics, including impersonating delivery services in attempts to defraud the public.

The report tallied 347 million phone and SMS scams worldwide, a 14% decrease from 405 million recorded in 2022.

In Asia, the fraud trend decreased for a second consecutive year because of cooperation to raise awareness of online fraud threats between governments, business and the public, according to the company.

In June 2023, Whoscall introduced features to allow users to scan URLs and detect suspicious SMS messages.

As a result, it found 4.5% of messages contained suspicious links, with the three most common messages featuring fake log-in requests (27%), prompts to download malicious software (20%) and links to fake one-page shopping sites (8%).


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