31 Macao suspects include 13 students, 2 pupils
A total of 31 suspected members of a credit card data scam gang including 13 university students and two secondary school pupils were arrested in Macao this week, Judiciary Police (PJ) spokesman Mark Sou Sio Keong said at a special press conference on Thursday.
In response to numerous cases of theft of credit card data reported since last year, the Judiciary Police launched a special operation to investigate whether Macao was the source of a leak of credit card data.
PJ officers exchanged intelligence with their Hong Kong counterparts and carried out a joint investigation called Operation Soaring Star 2020. As a result of the operation, 36 suspected organised crime members were arrested in Hong Kong and Macao on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A total of 31 suspects in Macao and five suspects in Hong Kong were arrested over the two days, according to Sou.
The 31 suspects arrested in Macao include three students studying at the same local university who were the gang’s suspected key members – a 21-year-old male surnamed Cheong, a 19-year-old female surnamed Ma, and her 20-year-old boyfriend surnamed Ho.
Sou did not identify the university where the trio study.
The other 28 local suspects comprising 11 males and 17 females aged between 18 and 39 include 10 more university students, two secondary school pupils, a casino dealer, and a coffee shop manager.
According to Sou, the police believe that the gang started operating last year. Alleged key members Cheong and Ma followed the instructions of the gang’s higher-ranking members by using the job title “part-timer for game top-ups” on Facebook to attract junior members who were eager to make a quick buck.
When someone applied for the part-time job, Cheong and Ma would assign them to different WeChat groups. One of the groups was in charge of stealing other people’s credit card information, card validity period and CCV code, Sou said.
According to Sou, the three key members first provided an online game account and login password to the newly recruited members and told them to use their personal Apple IDs to link them up with the stolen credit card data provided by the gang, and then to log into online game accounts to make in-app purchases – so-called “gold coins” – for US$99.99 or US$49.99 (MOP 798 or MOP 399) through the Apple website.
After topping up, the key members resold the “gold coins” through the dark web or black market channels to make a profit.
Sou said the higher-ranked members deposited MOP 50 for each successful transaction the gang made into Ma and Cheong’s bank accounts through ATMs. Afterwards, Ma and Cheong paid into the junior members’ bank accounts MOP 20 or 25 for each transaction they made.
According to Sou, Cheong admitted to having committed the offences since February. Ma and Cheong confessed to having established more than 50 WeChat groups, and both were in charge of coordinating the criminal activities with the higher-ranked members
Ho, Ma’s boyfriend, was tasked with assisting his girlfriend to distribute the rewards to one of the WeChat groups. Ma admitted to having committing the offences under the instructions of higher-ranked members since November last year. Ma had received the data of at least 240 stolen credit cards, Sou said.
According to Sou, the police believe that the gang had used the data of at least 500 stolen credit cards for in-app purchases worth more than MOP 600,000 since last year. Sou said the police are continuing their investigation into the case and believe that at least one kingpin and one key member are on the run.
The 31 suspects were transferred to the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) on Thursday. Cheong, Ma and Ho face charges of organised crime and computer fraud involving a large amount, while the other suspects face organised crime and computer fraud charges.
Non-resident worker steals clients’ credit card data
Meanwhile, a 26-year-old female non-resident worker of another credit card data scam gang was arrested on Tuesday for stealing clients’ credit card data, Judiciary Police (PJ) spokesman Mark Sou Sio Keong said during the same press conference on Thursday.
The suspect surnamed Wang is a mainlander employed by a travel agency in the northern district.
According to Sou, a local bank recently reported a string of suspicious transactions to the police involving five credit card customers who bought iPhones or other mobile phone products via Apple’s website involving more than MOP 40,000 in total.
PJ officers identified Wang and went to the travel agency on Tuesday to investigate.
Wang was taken to a police station for questioning. She denied committing the crime.
However, according to the evidence gathered by the police, Wang stole clients’ credit card data when they booked hotels or other services. She or her accomplices then used the data to purchase iPhones or accessories from overseas websites and took the items to the mainland to sell, Sou said.
Wang was transferred to the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) on Thursday, facing organised and computer crimes charges, according to Sou.
(The Macau Post Daily/Macau News)
PHOTO © The Macau Post Daily/Iong Tat Choi