More than 7,000 American citizens have been scammed by a group of Vietnamese online, in which online shoppers across the US paid a total of nearly $1 million to buy dry hand-washing products but never received the goods, the US Embassy in Hanoi said on Aug 18.
The statement posted on the US Embassy in Vietnam page on August 18 states that the US and Vietnam have cooperated to investigate a scam related to the Covid-19 pandemic and arrested three suspects.
The investigation and arrest of the three accused is described as conducted by Vietnam after the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) office in Ho Chi Minh City transferred information to the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security.
“The arrest of these suspects by the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security clearly demonstrates that the Government of Vietnam takes Covid-19 very seriously. This investigation shows that the victims have to lose a lot of money even though they are facing many other great challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“We are proud that the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation are working together to investigate this very complex cross-border scam,” US Ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel J. Kritenbrink said in a statement.
It is not clear at what time the arrest was made.
According to the US Embassy, the investigation originated in the city of Tampa, Florida, in March and then the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation Office in Ho Chi Minh City passed the information to the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security to conduct arrest.
The arrests of Phan Dinh Thu, Tran Quoc Khanh and Nguyen Duy Toan came after more than 7,000 victims across the US “filed civil lawsuits” that they were tricked into ordering products including dry hand sanitizer and towels wet sterilization in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most of them have transferred money to beneficiary accounts on the website to make purchases but do not receive any product or explanation.
The three suspects are Vietnamese nationals allegedly operating more than 300 websites with the intent of fraudulently selling products that are becoming scarce, collecting money and not delivering to customers.
The victims’ lawsuits also claimed that “the defendants created hundreds of email and user accounts with US payment methods to commit fraud and to evade real law enforcement agencies,” the statement said.
“The defendants also provided false information about the address and contact phone number on their website, leading to misunderstanding for individuals and businesses not involved in the case who receiving feedback and complaints arising from these fraudulent activities.”
“Investigators of the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation discovered nearly 40,000 fraudulent transactions worth approximately $975,000.”
The notice also includes a phone number and a link for the public to report online when there is a suspicion of fraud involving Covid-19.
Late last year, the US Department of Homeland Security also broke a phishing line after seven years of investigation, in which four Vietnamese, including a former police officer, were sentenced to decades in prison. This criminal group lives in Vietnam and uses the “Gift card” of the illegal online shopping site Amazon.com to gain illegal profits.
Earlier this year, US law enforcement agencies also broke a fraudulent line involving Vietnamese people. The line, led by Vietnamese people, set up fake marriages to help people who want to enter the US to apply for permanent residence with fake documents.
On the afternoon of August 18, Major General To An Xo -chief of the Office of the Ministry of Public Security – said that the investigation agency of the Ministry and Hanoi Police had just prosecuted and arrested four defendants in order to clarify the line of exploiting COVID-19 to cheat online.
The defendants include: Phan Dinh Thu, Tran Quoc Khanh, Nguyen Duy Toan and Do Chi Huy. All four were investigated for acts of using computer networks, telecommunications networks, electronic means to appropriate property, according to Article 290 of the 2015 Penal Code.
Four people were arrested by the police of Hoang Mai district, Hanoi on July 11 for acts of using computer networks, telecommunications networks, electronic means to appropriate property, according to Article 290 of the Law Criminal 2015.
In addition to the 4 defendants, 3 others are under investigation for related roles.
Initially, Toan leads the group of scammers, others reside in cities and provinces (including Hanoi and HCM City).
According to Mr. Xo, the prosecution was conducted after the Ministry of Public Security and the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation cooperated to investigate this transnational scam.
The arrest of the four accused above, according to Gen. To An Xo, was after receiving information from the Office of the Bureau of Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), under the US Department of Homeland Security.
Based on this information, the Vietnamese authorities separately investigated and arrested Toan and his accomplices. Toan’s group bought more than 300 domain names and then set up 110 e-commerce websites to sell dry hand sanitizer, antiseptic solution, antibacterial mask, etc. without goods.
An estimated 5,000 US customers have visited the commerce sites set up by this group to purchase 40,000 fraudulent transactions worth approximately $975,000.
Gen. Xo said that the Ministry of Public Security is directing localities to continue investigating and expanding the case.
Online fraudulent tricks are: making online friends, impersonating relatives, law enforcement agencies; set up a website, pretend to be a customer asking to click on a fake link, etc.
In the first 6 months of 2020, the police in District 1, HCM City received more than 80 reports of criminals using high technology to fraudulently appropriate property.
Through a series of cases above, there emerged popular fraudulent tricks such as: making friends via social networks, impersonating relatives, bank officials, law enforcement agencies; set up a website, impersonate a customer to request to click on a fake link … to “hack” personal account information and steal money from the victim.
One of the most popular tricks today is fraudsters hijacking social accounts (Facebook, Zalo, Messenger …) and then pretending to be the account holder, using urgent reasons to trick relatives and friends. The victim’s friends make urgent transfers through the bank accounts provided by them.
In order to avoid suspicion, subjects often use words when texting just like the account owner does. After a relative or friend of the account holder transfers money through the account number or provides a scratch card number to them, then he or she has been cheated.
Criminal tricks impersonate law enforcement agencies, ask victims to transfer money into the account they provide for investigation, verification is happening more and more, the amount of damage is often very large. Accordingly, the subject still uses the old trick, reporting the victim related to the criminal line (drugs, money laundering, smuggling …). They entice victims to prove that they are not involved in the case, to transfer money to the account provided by them via Internet Banking for investigation and verification; otherwise, they will be detained.
The victim of this procedure is Ms. Ly H.T (born in 1988, living in District 4 in HCM City). She received a call from a self-proclaimed “Hanoi police officer” who said she was involved in the money-laundering ring. After that, the subject asked her to transfer VND200 million to the account they provided for investigation bail, if not related, the above amount will be fully refunded. Fear of being involved with the law, Ms. H.T immediately went to a bank in District 1 to transfer money before knowing she was cheated.
The trick of making friends via social networks to scam appropriating property is also increasingly popular. Subjects set up accounts on social networks with elegant avatars, show off their abundant financial resources, make friends, and even promise to marry the victim.
Next, the subject said he would give gifts and send high-value foreign currency to the victim as a “decoy.” However, in order to receive gifts, foreign currency, the victim has to pay service fees, customs fees, fines … by transferring money to the account owned by their accomplices provided (often pretending to be a public employee. courier company, customs staff …).
Even the object also through the website fake the official website of domestic banks or create websites to receive remittances (usually PayPal), making customers think that their account has just received money remittance from abroad. Then, they instructed customers to convert foreign currency through fake websites, tricked into taking money from online sales victims.