Tales of Anti-Fraud Center Overreach: Freezing Your Bank Cards “For Your Own Good”

On April 6, a Weibo user from Zhejiang province reported a case of local anti-fraud center overreach that resulted in his bank cards and Alipay account being frozen after he made a work-related call to a Singaporean bank. In a now-deleted post, Weibo user @美食美景benny (měishí měijǐng benny) shared this story of his puzzling interactions with the fraud squad:

On the afternoon of April 4th, I used my domestic mobile phone at home to contact United Overseas Bank (UOB) in Singapore about a work-related matter. An hour later, 96110 [the National Anti-Fraud Center number] tried to call me, but I didn’t answer. Then my friend sent me a WeChat message saying that the police were apparently looking all over for me, and that if I didn’t answer their call, they’d start contacting my other friends. When I saw that WeChat message, I had no idea what was going on. A while later, I received a call from 96110. The caller said he was from the anti-fraud center at the Ningbo Nanmen Police Substation. He didn’t give me his badge number, and very rudely asked why I hadn’t answered the earlier phone call, and why I had been calling a 0065 number [Singapore’s country code, when dialed from China]. He also said that he knew my home address and threatened to send the local police to my house. I explained to him that I had called Singapore on a work-related matter. I also asked who gave him the authority to access my mobile phone contacts and geolocation data. In a threatening tone, he said that phone-scams were rife, and this sort of thing was for our own good, and then he hung up on me. After that, I got a call from an officer at my local police substation. When I asked for his badge number, he said he was just an auxiliary police officer, and that the Nanmen Police Substation had asked him to contact me. Then he hung up. Later that night, when I went out and tried to purchase something, I discovered that all of the bank cards in my name, including my Alipay account, had been frozen. Nowadays, central and local governments are improving their economic work, trying to foster a favorable business environment and attract foreign investment and technology. However, under the banner of fraud-prevention, a small group of people are behaving willfully and recklessly. What is the reason for this? @National Anti-Fraud Center @Zhejiang Public Security Bureau @Ningbo Public Security @Lao Dongyan2004 @Attorney Qu Zhenhong [Chinese]

At the end of the post, in addition to tagging the National Anti-Fraud Center and the Zhejiang provincial and Ningbo municipal public security bureaus, the author also tagged Tsinghua University law professor Lao Dongyan and attorney Qu Zhenhong, both known for their rights advocacy on behalf of Chinese citizens and consumers.

Before the post was deleted, it attracted many supportive comments from Weibo users, some of whom shared their own stories of fraud center incompetence or overreach. CDT editors have archived and translated some of these comments, below:

王鹏律师: […] I had a similar experience to @美食美景benny (měishí měijǐng benny). Not long after receiving a call from a friend overseas, the police called to warn me about the risk of telecommunications fraud. This method of monitoring citizens’ communications is illegal. The key is that they can also freeze related accounts, which is likely an abuse of power: power cannot be wielded arbitrarily. The reason why telecommunications fraud is so rampant is closely related to the leakage of citizens’ personal data, and also to the excessive collection of citizens’ personal data by many government departments. To combat telecommunications fraud, we should focus on regulating the collection and use of data, and severely punish the criminal buying and selling of citizens’ personal data. Most importantly, we should strengthen supervision over personnel, departments, and institutions that possess such data, and take action against those that engage in excessive data collection. By requiring that data collected from citizens be deleted in a timely manner, we can eradicate the problem of telecommunications fraud at the source.

坚守扶贫: The “For Your Own Good” series.

空海大师: But when you really need them to handle a case [of telecom fraud], suddenly their cutting-edge technology is nowhere to be found.

真意勿忘言: I’m guessing they put the squeeze on the OP, and he was pressured [into deleting his post]. 

Mrs史眯肆: It sounds like it was just an excuse. After going to all that trouble to get their hands on his personal information, it isn’t even clear what kind of follow-up they’re going to do. And all he did was make a phone call.

长余量化投资-个人投资者: Ten days after my mobile phone service was suspended, the public security bureau issued a letter stating that “no evidence of fraud was found.” They’re useless.

鲁南之流: Once during the pandemic, when my mobile phone ran out of battery power, a local contract tracer called one of my friends from my contact list trying to find me. That technology is so powerful it freaks me out.

錢錢財税: I’m afraid to post things because two of my [social media] accounts have been permanently blocked. Just “liking” a post makes me feel a bit panicky. [Chinese]

From the moment the National Anti-Fraud Center app was rolled out in March 2021 as part of Xi Jinping’s campaign against telecom and internet fraud, it was viewed with suspicion by many citizens, due to its wide-ranging surveillance capabilities and potential for invasions of privacy. Since then, there have been reports of citizens being coerced into installing the app, of mobile phone users being flagged by police for simply visiting foreign websites, and most ominously, of the app being used by Chinese security services to surveil Tibetans, Uyghurs, dissidents, and activists.


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