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China declares war on phone message scams

China has declared war on scams using mobile phone short messages that promise everything from fake cash prizes to sexual services to contract killings.
/ Source: Reuters

China has declared war on scams using mobile phone short messages that promise everything from fake cash prizes to sexual services to contract killings.

Laws governing China's mobile phone market have fallen behind its explosive growth, which has generated huge profits for short message service providers.

The new campaign is an extension of a crackdown started last year on pornographic and subversive content and spam messages sent by mobile phones or through the Internet.

"Illegal short messages have become a major cause of damage to social order," Wu Heping, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, was quoted as saying by the Beijing News on Wednesday. Nine scams by one group -- a drop in the bucket of the nationwide problem -- tricked victims out of more than 1 million yuan ($124,000) in less than 20 days, Wu said.

Wu said his ministry would work with the Ministry of Information Industry and the China Banking Regulatory Commission to stamp out messages that duped people into turning over personal account information or involved prostitution, gambling, contract murder, guns for sale, fake lotteries and more.

One short message that has made the rounds among Chinese mobile phones reads: "Our company provides the following services: fake certifications, sales of smuggled cars, firearms, counterfeit money and drugs and private investigating."

The campaign is based on victims calling police to report short message frauds.

On receiving the reports, police would forward the information to telecoms operators, who would shut down the illegal numbers, and banks, who would close related accounts, Wu said.

Short messaging is extremely popular among Chinese mobile phone users, who surpassed 330 million by the end of 2004. They sent a total of 217.7 billion messages last year.

To do their part in the crackdown, the Ministry of Information Industry had drafted a new set of rules for short message management, while China's banking regulator said it was setting up a verification system meant to keep people from opening accounts under false names, the Beijing News said.