Authorities on Thursday vowed to eradicate voice phishing scams in Korea, which last year resulted in losses of more than 774 billion won ($593.5 million).
Voice phishing refers to the criminal practice of using phony phone calls to deceive people into sending money.
Ever since the first voice phishing case was reported in 2006, prosecutors said losses have snowballed to 774 billion won last year, more than triple 2017’s 247 billion.
But as voice phishing cases climbed over the years, arrests failed to catch up. Some 26,000 people involved in the scams were nabbed last year, according to prosecutors, down from 39,000 in 2020 and 48,000 in 2019.
To reverse that trend, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) said it would work with the Korean National Police Agency, the Financial Services Commission, the Financial Supervisory Service, National Tax Service, the Korea Customs Service and the Korea Communications Commission to form a joint investigation team run from the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office.
The head of the team will be a senior prosecutor.
“The crimes – forgery of documents and the distribution of malicious programs – are growing more intricate and sophisticated,” the SPO said in a statement. “We’re now seeing voice phishing organizations working like companies and involving gangsters.”
“Victims are losing more than property,” the SPO stressed. “They’re giving up their lives, which is why we need special countermeasures.”
Lee Won-seok, acting chief of the SPO, told reporters Thursday that authorities would “mobilize all available resources” to get to the bottom of the crimes and “sternly punish” anyone involved.
Prosecutors also said they would try to change laws, hinting at heavier punishments.
Prosecutors will mainly be in charge of opening joint investigations with the police, conducting raids and arrests, filing for detention warrants and indictments.
Police will handle investigating the voice phishing gangs, tracking down fake bank accounts, confiscating stolen money and bringing overseas suspects to Korea for trial.
The Financial Supervisory Service and the Korea Communications Commission will be in control of deactivating bank accounts and telecommunications systems used in the scams and helping victims retrieve losses.
The Korea Customs Service and the National Tax Service will be in charge of tracking lost money.
The SPO said cooperation with the police was key because prosecutors are only allowed to handle cases in which losses are at least 500 million won or which are directly related to the prosecution.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]