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China's internet watchdog ramps up crackdown on online scams amid growing number of counterfeit financial services apps

·3 min read

Chinese regulators have ramped up a sweeping crackdown on online scams in the world's largest internet market, as it warned that fraudsters have been creating a large number of counterfeit financial services apps to dupe consumers.

Internet watchdog the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said on Friday that it has removed 42,000 of these counterfeit apps since the start of this year, adding the illegal platforms to its fraud blacklist, according to a statement posted by the regulator on its official WeChat account. This blacklist now includes more than 3.8 million websites and 514,000 apps.

The regulator said scammers are behind a growing number of counterfeit finance apps that imitate widely known platforms like those of JD Finance, operated by JD.com's fintech arm JD Technology, and Mashang Consumer Finance, one of the country's largest online lenders to consumers. An estimated 5,677 fraudulent apps were found to mimic JD Finance, according to the CAC statement.

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Consumers have also been hoodwinked by some fraudulent platforms that claimed to be state-backed, the CAC said.

Scammers are behind a growing number of counterfeit finance apps that imitate widely known platforms like those of JD Finance and Mashang Consumer Finance. Photo: Shutterstock alt=Scammers are behind a growing number of counterfeit finance apps that imitate widely known platforms like those of JD Finance and Mashang Consumer Finance. Photo: Shutterstock>

The huge numbers cited by the CAC reflect the vast potential market, a country of more than 1.4 billion people, where these scammers operate.

Mainland China, the world's second-largest economy, had more than 1 billon internet users at the end of December 2021, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre. The country is also the world's biggest market for smartphones and personal computers.

Citing one example of online fraud, regulators said scammers in June conned an internet user surnamed Qin, from eastern Shandong province, out of 60,000 yuan (US$8,950) after downloading a counterfeit Mashang Consumer Finance app. The fake app had asked Qin to pay 10,000 yuan for financial loan insurance and 50,000 yuan as capital verification fee. No loan was given and no money was returned.

In recent years, use of apps for online scams accounted for about 60 per cent of all telecommunications network-related fraud cases on the mainland, according to a report in April by Xinhua News Agency, which cited a CAC source. The fake apps imitate platforms for online part-time billing, quick loans and even those of major banks, the report said.

The CAC, according to the report, was working with the Ministry of Public Security and other relevant departments to keep track of these scams and establish an early warning system online to alert consumers.

In Hong Kong, fraudsters have conned HK$1.28 billion (US$163 million) from more than 6,000 victims of online deception and phone scams in the first four months of this year, the city's latest crime figures revealed. Nearly one-fourth of the money the victims lost was swindled through email fraud, in which 102 companies and 25 people were duped out of HK$333 million in total between January and April.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.