Taiwan leads the fight against mobile phone fraud

Jeff Kuo, the Telecoms Security boss says mobile fraud prevention is an ongoing battle and Taiwan is at the forefront.

Kuo says, “This is like an exact replica of the whole world. Here in Taiwan, we can see all types of fraud in advance.” We can also use this information to help protect other countries because we know what’s going to happen first.

Kuo, a Taiwanese businessman, is the boss of Gogolook. Gogolook owns Whoscall which, in East Asia, is one of the most used spam-blocking apps.

According to the company, its artificial intelligence-powered software continuously trawls over 1.6 billion phone numbers from both Taiwanese and from other regions of Asia, in order to stop calls and messages from potential fraudsters.

Whoscall collaborated with Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) to implement the “165 Anti-Fraud Program”. This program prevented more than 52.3 million fraudulent messages and over 13.1 million calls from being made last year in Taiwan.

Why is Taiwan so popular for fraud in telecoms? Kuo claims that Taiwan’s 23.5 million population makes it an ideal “practice ground”, for both Taiwanese and mainland Chinese gangs. The gang tries out a new scam on a Taiwanese phone and it seems to work. If it succeeds, they will expand the scheme across Asia.

Kuo says, “[For instance], we give Apple a lot evidence… until they realize there is a serious issue.” A problem that will not only spread to Taiwan but Asia Pacific and, if it isn’t addressed, it will soon be in Europe or the USA.”

Jean Hsiao Yayun, CIB telecoms fraud investigation tells that Taiwan is Asia’s largest manufacturer of high-tech tech technology. This level of technical knowledge is also shared by Taiwanese fraudsters, she says.

Ms Hsiao also said that scammers enjoyed a boom during the coronavirus epidemic, when millions were at home and more dependent upon their smartphones.

She says that the Taiwan stock exchange was extremely high in the 1980s, and so many people made a lot. This led to an increase in fraud investment.

Scammers might offer advice via app pages or start chat groups claiming they have the ability to tell you when stocks are going up. They can also share their intel with you if they join their group.

The series New Tech Economy explores how technology innovation will shape the future economic landscape.

They would ask for money to obtain the details. Another type of investment scam involves people being contacted by friendly strangers who offer loans at extremely low interest rates.

Some Taiwanese criminal networks are so extensive that they have started overseas operations. Ms Hsiao cites one instance in 2020, when 92 Taiwanese were detained in Montenegro.

Other cases involve Taiwanese being lured to foreign countries, such as Cambodia, by false promises of higher wages. As telephone fraudsters, they’re forced into servitude in these countries.

Kuo acknowledges there’s a “weapons war” between fraudsters and anti-fraud companies like his. While Whoscall, and other similar apps, block billions of phone calls and messages, others still manage to get through.

Any Taiwanese citizen, no matter their age, knows the method of fraudsters: burst dialling. Unknown numbers will prompt you to dial a short number and then play a recorded message.

Auto-dialing systems can make hundreds of calls per minute. This is an efficient way for fraudsters find working numbers of people willing to answer the phone, even if they don’t know who it is calling.

TonTon Huang, a Taiwanese expert in cyber security says scammers will call you back once they have found the person.

He says that if they find the number being used by anyone, they may sell it or inform you that you must pay a loan or insurance payment. The most popular one is about installment payments. It’s like if you shop online, and need to make instalments.

Scammers often target older individuals who are not familiar with the latest technology and don’t keep up to date with trends. However, Ms Hsiao from CIB says that they continue to con many young people.

A 20-year old Taiwanese YouTuber Edison Lin uploaded a video earlier this year in which he revealed how he was a victim to telephone fraud.

Two fraudsters conspired to con him out of $13,000.

Lin claimed that it was after someone called him pretending to be an employee at a restaurant he’d visited months before. He was told by the man that he’d accidentally been charged $380 more than he should have and that assistance would be provided to him in getting his money back.

Once Mr Lin ended the call, he was quickly telephonized again by another fraudster pretending that he is from his bank.

Lin stated in his video that “When the fake clerk at E.Sun Bank called me, he knew all the story and he explained how I could get compensation from E.Sun.” His professionalism convinced me that he really was a bank clerk.

“Before we had time, we talked back and forth for half an hours… I noticed that one of them was transfer[my] money… “I have not paid the debt off.”

Professor Sandra Wachter is an Oxford University senior researcher in AI and a world expert on using AI software systems.

While AI is a powerful tool for defending against fraud based on telecoms, she believes the public needs to be more educated about these risks.

She says that technology is used to increase fraud efforts. It allows fraudsters to expand their reach and make more money. However, texting and calls can appear legitimate and make people more susceptible to being deceived, particularly if they are executed in convincing, sophisticated ways.

“Because fraud is growing, so must the strategy for fighting these attempts. It makes sense to use AI software to accomplish this.

The question here is whether these efforts are effective and will we be able stop all of this behavior. The answer to that question is probably no, however, we can temporarily curb the behavior. People can avoid falling for the scam by learning digital literacy. AI is able to help detect and stop these frauds.

Jeff Kuo, who works at Whoscall spam-blocker app, agrees that fighting fraudsters is “never-ending”, but it’s also our determination to improve our skills and rise up.


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