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May 4, 2013

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Repeated calls used to extort salesman

A DISTURBING new type of telecom blackmail has appeared in Shanghai, one that seems to operate through enforcement loopholes of telephone companies and police.

Criminals are using telephone software to make very frequent phone calls to a victim's cellphone, and threatening to keep it up until they are paid off.

In a recent case, a salesman surnamed Zhang said he received more than 2,000 calls, with a call every one to two minutes over two days, and as soon as he picked up, the call ended, the Shanghai Morning Post reported yesterday.

According to a message sent to Zhang, the harassment would stop only if he transferred 500 yuan to a designated bank account.

Zhang called police, but was told the amount of money was too small to file the case, and it is hard to collect evidence as the suspects usually use software and a server outside the city or country to make the calls.

Zhang's phone service said it could act against only those calling or sending messages using their service.

The harassment started on Friday last week when a call that appeared as "private number" showed up on Zhang's phone.

"I tried to call back, but the other side hung up right after the call was put through," Zhang said.

In just 10 minutes, Zhang got 16 such calls. Zhang did not pay the 500 yuan and he received more than 2,000 calls that weekend.

Zhang dared not turn off his phone for fear of missing important calls.

"I think they found my number on the Internet," Zhang said. "I'm so frustrated. I don't want to change my number and I'm afraid they are just going to ask for more if I pay."

"The suspects are very crafty as they asked for only a couple of hundred yuan just to avoid criminal charges," a police officer said.

The phone company suggested Zhang set up his phone to allow only calls from contacts in his phone, which Zhang said wasn't a good answer, either.

During the May Day holiday, Zhang turned off his phone and received no more of the calls when he turned it on again. He's hoping they don't come back.


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