Police raided two guesthouses in Poipet City on Wednesday and arrested about 200 Chinese nationals suspected of operating an internet blackmailing scam, the biggest-ever detention of fraudsters using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology in Cambodia, an official said.
The scam involved blackmailing women after persuading them to send nude photographs of themselves, said Khun Sambo, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.
The raids in the Banteay Meanchey province border town followed a tip-off from Chinese authorities, Lieutenant General Sambo said.
“We got information from China that they arrested some suspects with connections to Cambodia,” and tracked their associates in Cambodia with the help of the Telecommunications Ministry, he said. About 200 Chinese nationals were arrested, including 32 women, he added.
The scammers in Cambodia were largely making calls to China’s southern Hunan province, he said, and were linked to 31 Chinese nationals arrested last month in Phnom Penh for allegedly carrying out the same blackmailing operations.
During Wednesday’s raids, officials confiscated two laptops, more than 100 desk phones and other equipment, Lt. Gen. Sambo said, adding that the majority of those arrested did not have passports.
He said authorities were still determining how the suspects entered the country without proper documents, as well as who was recruiting the scammers and organizing the operations.
However, he suspected that the scammers had been working in Cambodia for several months.
“I think they came here a long time ago,” he said. “The suspects never cared where they were. It just depended on whether the location had internet.”
Arrests of VoIP scammers have been a regular occurrence in recent years, with Cambodian and Chinese officials regularly cooperating to track those who use technology that masks the location of calls and makes them difficult to trace, allowing extortionists and other fraudsters to operate from afar with little fear of arrest.
VoIP scammers have been said to be attracted to Cambodia due to its cheap internet and cost of living as well as loose enforcement of regulations.
Lt. Gen. Sambo said Wednesday’s raid was the largest VoIP arrest of which he was aware.
“The case is bigger than the past,” he said. “We will try our best to continue to prevent this crime.”
At about 11 a.m., three hours after the raids, the suspects were loaded onto buses and police vans and transferred to Siem Reap province to be grilled at the immigration detention center.
Sok Phal, head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said all were being questioned on Wednesday afternoon.
Of the 31 arrested last month, one group of 17 suspects was scheduled to leave Sihanoukville for China’s Sichuan province last week, while a second group of 14 suspects was slated to leave Siem Reap for Henan province on Saturday, according to a report provided by Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department. Their departures could not be confirmed on Wednesday.
Each group was to be accompanied by 13 Chinese police officers, the report said.
Also last month, more than 70 alleged VoIP scammers were arrested in a separate case following multiple police raids in Phnom Penh and Kampot province and later deported.