And Finally

Smartphone scams

Meet China’s ultimate con artist


Next victim?

Want to be a top-notch scammer? Two recent stories from China show you need little more than a mobile phone.

The first involves Zhang Junbo, a 41 year-old inmate serving jail time in Heilongjiang province.

Zhang was sentenced to 13 years in 2003 for grievous bodily harm and kidnap, but since 2009 he has defrauded at least five people of millions of yuan.

His primary victim was a Ms Wang, whom he met online in 2009 after bribing prison guards to give him a smartphone. He lured her into thinking they were in love and began asking her for money so he could get his sentence commuted.

Within the first year of their relationship she transferred Rmb3.4 million ($540,421) to people who, she was told, would help free her “boyfriend”. Even when Zhang was put in solitary confinement he managed to keep his mobile phone.

By early 2010 Wang realised something was up. She confronted Zhang and then asked the negligent jail to compensate her. The prison agreed to repay Rmb500,000 if she promised not to go public with the story.

But in 2013 Zhang contacted her and offered to pay back the rest of her money if she would first transfer him some cash. Incredibly, Wang still believed in her “ex-boyfriend” until 2015, when Zhang was found guilty of defrauding Wang (again) and given another 15 years in jail. Last month 14 guards were also found guilty of assisting him – including five who laundered money that Zhang received from Wang.

Yet there are plenty of conmen in the outside world who have used their smartphone cameras to make a quick buck.

This month Ma Hong, the owner of a helicopter company in Shenzhen, outed a so-called ‘weishang’ or weibo sales person as a fraud.

The man – who sold business development classes online – was caught repeatedly breaking into Ma’s helicopter showroom to pose with the machines.

The self-proclaimed (but fake) billionaire then posted the photos online to show how rich he had become – and thus how useful his business classes were likely to be.

Weishang often sell products such as cosmetics and weight loss pills. They use social media to promote their products to friends and relatives, and encourage others to buy in bulk so they can also acts as vendors.

They often post photos showing how wealthy they are in order to get others to buy into their sales schemes. Last year a report by the Beijing Consumer Association found that 55% of products sold by weishang had quality issues and 50% of vendors refused to refund or replace damaged goods.

A video shot in a luxury car salesroom last year shows a group of weishang faking pictures, including one where they stand by a banner congratulating themselves on reaching their yearly sales target.

That has prompted netizens to make their own mock weishang photos, in which they variously claim to have bought their own high-speed train, the Forbidden City or (perhaps most creatively) the 4,500-year-old Pyramids of Giza.

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