As recession deepens, con artistry booms in Asia

Wed Mar 4, 2009 7:17pm EST
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - When 96 people from China arrived at Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei after paying hundreds of dollars to compete in a music contest offering big cash prizes, they soon discovered they'd been swindled.

A con artist had faked invitations from the city of Taipei, pocketed the contest entry fees and abandoned the "contestants" at the airport when they arrived in mid-February. Some of the musicians were so angry that they refused to return home.

Such scams are expected to increase in Asia, particularly greater China, as the economic downturn motivates swindlers to prey on the down-and-out looking for a change in their luck, crime experts say.

"We see more and more victims now because of the economic crisis," said Chu Yiu-kong, a criminologist at Hong Kong University.

"Chinese people like money a lot, so it's easy to get trapped. Chinese people also believe in lucky opportunities, especially in difficult times."

Trade-reliant Asian economies are reeling from a global slump. Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan are in recession and major companies in the region are cutting production, freezing job recruitment and laying off workers to save money.

Criminologists say con artists often thrive in such desperate economic climates.

Scams which police say are particularly likely to increase include job search deception, fraudulent money lending and getting people to pay hefty fees to obtain bogus lottery winnings or buy into supposedly lucrative business opportunities.   Continued...

<p>A person walks past an anti-scam poster in Taipei February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang</p>