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South Korea arrests phone scam ring with North Korea ties

South Korean police have arrested members of a voice phishing scam in cooperation with Chinese authorities, local reports say. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
South Korean police have arrested members of a voice phishing scam in cooperation with Chinese authorities, local reports say. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 16 (UPI) -- South Korean police have arrested eight members of a voice-phishing crime ring based in China after the suspects were found to have used a North Korean malware-installing phone app.

Seoul's national intelligence service and the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Monday the malware was sent to more than 200 South Korean victims in the last six months. The suspects were able to steal more than $1.8 million, MBC and local news service Dailian reported.

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The suspects were all identified as South Korean citizens in their 20s and 30s. Four of the accused were arrested in South Korea, after repatriating in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The remaining four were arrested in Tianjin, China, in cooperation with Chinese authorities. The suspects based in China have not been extradited to Korea because of COVID-19, reports say.

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South Korea police said a North Korean national developed the mobile app used to install malware. The North Korean suspect, who could be operating from China, has evaded arrest. The malware was used to steal personal information from victims including name, their resident registration number, phone number and the status of any loans. Suspects also stole data on family members in users' networks, according to reports.

The phone scammers often posed as employees of South Korean banks and insurance companies, then tricked them into transferring money to illicit accounts.

The arrests in South Korea could help local authorities track down more suspects in the crime ring, police said.

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Fraudulent phone calls and text messages have been a persistent problem in Korea, where earlier this year President Moon Jae-in called for tougher measures against scams that target senior citizens and people with debt.

Criminals typically trick their victims into thinking they are in financial trouble, or that they are already targets of scams that the criminals can "resolve" for them if they follow instructions by phone, according to police.

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