When China announced last year that under-18s would be restricted to playing online video games for just three hours a week, I realised the news was likely to go down badly with young players.
What I couldn’t have predicted at the time was that fraudsters would rejoice at the crackdown, and see it as an opportunity to scam unwary, gaming-obsessed kids.
As The Register reports, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has published a report detailing some of the 12,000 incidents of online fraud it says have been handled this year.
Amongst them are scams that steal money from children, with the alluring but bogus promise that China’s tough gaming ban can be subverted.
In its report, CAC tells the story of 15-year-old Tan Moumou from Guangdong Province, who was playing mobile games when a stranger added him as a friend on WeChat. The new ‘friend’ told Tan Moumou that he knew a way to lift the time limit for youngsters, which restricts online gaming to one hour, between 8pm and 9pm, on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.
Any caution Tan Moumou might have had about believing their new “friend” was swept away by the desire to play online video games for longer, and they used their parent’s mobile phone without permission to pay a total of 3,800 yuan (approximately US $560).
Of course, the gaming restriction was not lifted and the money was lost.
In another incident, 12-year-old Wu Mou of Hainan Province accessed a QQ group via his mother’s smartphone, and saw that “free” game skins were being distributed.
Having added the fraudster as a QQ friend, and scanned a QR code on WeChat to receive the skin, the 12-year-old was tricked into believing that he had broken the law, and was told he could be sentenced to jail for one year, or forced to pay a 100,000 yuan (approximately US $14,800) fine.
However, the scammer told Wu Mou that the problem could disappear if 6,500 yuan (US $960) was paid by scanning a QR code – which the young petrified victim duly did.
According to CAC, other online crimes involving minors that have been reported to it include lottery scams, the theft of parents’ payment information, and youngsters tricked into paying for gaming equipment that never arrives.
The scammers are said to often dangle the bait of a celebrity fan QQ group, offering gifts or the signatures of stars after members have completed certain tasks – tricking youngsters into transferring money electronically straight into the hands of fraudsters.