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Scammers jailed for defrauding the elderly

Updated: 2023-01-21 15:14 ( China Daily )
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A group of 32 scammers were punished by a Beijing court last year after they illegally collected about 870 million yuan ($128 million) from more than 1,200 senior residents via a "square dancing" app.

The ringleader of the gang as well as the app initiator, surnamed Liu,was sentenced to nine years in prison, along with a fine of 500,000 yuan, for the crime of illegally collecting deposits from the public on April 2, according to the Beijing Haidian District People's Court.

While announcing the heaviest punishment for Liu, the court also gave prison terms ranging from two to seven years to 31 others, along with fines.

Although seven of the group,including Liu, appealed to a higher court, the capital's No 1 Intermediate People's Court rejected their request and upheld the original ruling on Aug 4.

Zhang Xiaojin, an official from the Supreme People's Court, China's top procuratorate, said in November that many scammers took advantage of elderly people's major needs, such as healthcare,investment and entertainment, to defraud them, adding that Liu's case was typical.

To entice the elderly to download the app and buy financial projects provided by the software, Liu designed services for square dancing - a popular pastime among elderly Chinese - including teaching videos and appointments.

After registering accounts on the app, elderly users could be provided dancing uniforms to participate in organized activities held by Liu offline, but also draw lotteries online.

After gaining the trust of the elderly participants, Liu and his group began introducing financial items,claiming the products would bring the users higher rates of return than bank deposits.

To gain greater trust and collect more deposits, Liu even asked some of the elderly to be his "assistants" to help others pay through the app.

Such illegal fundraising lasted from 2014 to 2015, but it was exposed in July 2018 after some users realized they had been cheated and called police in Haidian district, as they did not get the so-called higher rates of return and found that Liu couldn't be contacted.

In March 2019, police filed the case. Six months later, Liu's group was detained.

One of the victims, surnamed Wang, in her 60s, told police that she likes square dancing, so she registered on the app after her friends recommended it on WeChat, an instant messaging tool in China.

"At first, I just watched videos on the app to learn new dance steps and download dance music," Wang said. "Then I found I could get points to exchange small gifts on the app if I invited others to be users."

"I felt the app was useful, as it provided me with a good user experience at the time. So when I saw online introductions and information about financial products on the platform, I decided to have a try," she added.

In August 2020, prosecutors in the district charged the group with the crime of illegally collecting public deposits. Prosecutors said that their investigation helped discover 26 other apps suspected of defrauding old people, adding that further investigations are underway.

Since early last year, a campaign against scammers who target the elderly has been launched across the country, in an effort to protect the legitimate rights and interests of senior citizens.

Data released by the top procuratorate showed that prosecutors nationwide had accused 8,516 people of defrauding elderly residents as of November, of whom 561 allegedly provided fake nursing services and 423 allegedly sold fake healthcare goods.

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