Scam losses ‘topped B60bn in last two years’
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Scam losses ‘topped B60bn in last two years’

Central bank has frozen 200,000 ‘mule accounts’, with tougher new rules on the way

(Photo: Bloomberg)
(Photo: Bloomberg)

The Bank of Thailand is stepping up a crackdown on so-called mule accounts used in online financial fraud after bank customers lost more than 60 billion baht to such scams in the past two years.

The central bank and other enforcement agencies have frozen almost 200,000 mule accounts — operated by people who facilitate the transfer of illegal funds on behalf of someone else — between March 2023 and April this year, said Daranee Saeju, assistant governor for the payment systems policy and financial consumer protection group.

The BoT will expand the crackdown by sharing the database of risky customers among banks, Ms Daranee said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Individuals suspected of owning mule accounts will have their facilities locked and banks will tighten rules to make it difficult for them to open new ones by the end of next month, she said.

“The situation is getting worse with new cases coming in steadily,” she said. “There are about 300,000 reported cases of financial fraud over the past two years. Normally one financial fraud case relates to five mule accounts, which means there are millions of accounts out there we need to deal with.”  

The country has struggled to curb a surge in financial crimes as people fall victims to scammers offering loans at cheap rates, high interest rates on deposits or through various ponzi schemes.

The financial damage from online scams totalled 63 billion baht between March 2022 and May 2024, according to official data.

The central bank has ordered commercial banks to upgrade their security systems for online transactions within the fourth quarter by offering customers an option to lock their money from digital transactions and providing double authorisation in transfers, Ms Daranee said.

Under the new rules, she said, the regulator is focusing on individual depositors rather than controlling deposit accounts for suspected mule activities.

Banks can verify suspected mule accounts using three data sources: internal data from each bank, the data-sharing system of the Central Fraud Register (CFR) under the Thai Bankers’ Association, which is scheduled to start operating on July 31, and data from the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo).

Suspected mule accounts, as defined by banks, often exhibit numerous deposit transfers in a short period followed by large amounts of money transfers. Banks can immediately suspend suspicious transactions via online channels to mitigate cyber-risks swiftly, she said.

The central bank is also tightening regulations for opening new deposit accounts. Individuals wishing to open new accounts must be verified using data from the same three sources: Amlo, the CFR and the banks.

If a bank notices something suspicious based on risk assessment, she said, it can impose special conditions, prohibit deposit account opening via mobile banking apps, or block opening through all channels.

“The central bank believes stronger regulations will better protect consumers from financial fraud, while improved tools can manage cyber-risks,” Ms Daranee said.

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