The Anatomy of a Chinese Internet Crime

How many ways are there for the Chinese police to catch you?  The following from 6Park is another.

On December 10 and December 13, two emails arrived at the mailboxes of leaders of the Ningbo City government.

The email read: "Dear leader, we are old lovers.  Do you remember the intimate nights that we spent together?  The videotapes and photographs are still at my place.  I urgently need 20,000 yuan for an emergency situation.  You don't have to pay me if you want the media to ruin your career and reputation.  I will wait three days for you to wire the money to my designated account."  The letter was signed Xiao Li and included a bank account number and contact telephone number.

These emails were forwarded to the Ningbo City police for investigation.  Meanwhile, four emails with similiar content were also sent to four Shanghai City leaders on December 13.  As the email had originated from Ningbo City, the Shanghai City police referred the matter to the Ningbo City police for investigation.

How did the investigation proceed?

First, from the IP address on the email, it was determined that it came from an Internet bar in the Haishu district of Ningbo.  Users at Internet bars are required to present identification when they use the Internet there.  Thus, it was determined that the sender was a person named Zhu from Hubei.

Second, the bank account information was tracked down and it was linked to the same Zhu person.

On December 15, the police arrested Zhu.  The police found his identification card and bank card, and they matched the information they had.  Upon interrogation, Zhu admitted his crimes.

24-year-old Zhu arrived from Hubei to Ningbo and he needed money.  He thought to blackmail the leaders: "Nobody knows who sends an email.  If I am lucky, I can get some money out of it."

Okay, so maybe it is not such a good thing to blackmail people by sending emails from an Internet bar.  How about 'snail mail'?  

According to Xindao Daily (via 6Park), when a Zuoquan county department director arrived at work, he found a letter from a 3P girl (三陪女) who claimed to have had an 'exchange' with him and is now pregnant.  "Reluctantly, I have to write you.  Please send me 3,500 yuan to get an abortion ..."  The letter also threatened that the alternative is to have the baby and then have a DNA analysis in order to have a day in court.  The letter also included a bank account.  Astonishingly, more than forty leaders in Zuoquan county received the identical computer-printed letter with the same envelope and time stamp.  The matter has been referred to the public security bureau. 

What is the theory and practice of this type of crime?

In terms of target selection, it is assumed that government officials have money.  Next, it is assumed that many male government officials have libidinous lives.  Finally, it is assumed that a government official may lose his position if publicly proven (through videos, photos and DNA analyses) to be lax in morals.  You can also think about what it means for a society when such assumptions are commonly taken to be true.

In terms of the blackmail message, there are multiple ways for the police to locate the sender if it were sent over the Internet.  A sophisticated tech-geek can probably conceal the tracks, but that takes some doing.  The 'snail mail' approach is safer (hints: don't lick the stamps because of DNA traces; don't leave fingerprints; don't print it on your home or office printer; etc).

In terms of money delivery, there is no way for this to work in China.  Only a fool would leave a bank account number (unless you made up a blackmail message and you put down the bank account number of someone that you hate).  There is no alternative other than asking for a bag of cash but you better figure out how to safely get it.

In terms of risk analysis, there are several outcomes.

  1. The recipient does not take this seriously and ignores the message.  Nice try, no harm.
  2. The recipient has done nothing of the sort and immediately refers the matter to the police for investigation.  If you used the Internet, the police have any number of ways to find you.  If you use a bank account, the police will find you too.  If you want cash, the police will set up a sting and wait for you to show up.
  3. The recipient is actually guilty of something like that and would rather pay you off because a few thousand dollars is nothing to him.  This is your best outcome.

What are the odds of (3) happening as opposed to (2)?  Much depends on how well you write that message.  The trick is that you have to be specific but still plausibly accurate.  For a sample, see the previous post The Letter of Dread in China.  Form letters used for mass mailings won't work.