A criminal network set up a clandestine call center in a luxury villa where 17 kidnapped young Taiwanese were forced to cheat people in China

When police they entered that house, situated on a street of luxury villas in Cascais, PJ inspectors could barely see who they were and what exactly those figures were sitting in front of computers with headphones on their ears and speaking to small microphones.

This report is from Diario de Noticais – It makes fascinating reading

Outside it was broad daylight, shortly after lunchtime, but inside that house it was always nighttime, permanently darkened with cloths covering the windows to avoid prying eyes. It stank of tobacco and there were butts everywhere, as well as crumpled plastic cups with leftover coffee.

The ten-and-a-half judiciary operatives braved the darkness, began opening windows, and their faces became faces. Some scared, others indifferent. There were 17 in all – 11 boys and six girls in their 20s and 30s, Taiwanese, and they spoke no language other than Mandarin

A few days earlier, two Taiwanese police officers had been at PJ’s headquarters in Lisbon, with the director of the National Counterterrorism Unit (UNCT), Manuela Santos, with the information that a criminal network in that country, which was dedicated to circumventing it. people over the phone and would have bases in several European countries, could now be using Portugal, on the Cascais line, as a logistics base.

Clandestine call center

The investigation turned attention to that address, a luxury villa that had been rented for six months for eight thousand euros a month.

The scheme had been known to the Taiwanese authorities for some time, but no other police had caught it.

They rent houses for a short time in European countries to install telephone and computer equipment, with enhanced internet capacity, functioning as authentic ‘ call centers’ , from which they make contacts to China, bypassing thousands of Chinese.

“The well-designed and well-trained modus operandi entails forcing the abducted young people to pose as officials of Chinese police and government officials who contact people to convince them that they have access to forbidden content on the internet and have to pay a fine to not be detained “, explains Manuela Santos to DN.

Each call center is typically comprised of 15 to 20 people, with a single person who handles contacts, organization, work and schedules. Someone else is in charge of daily logistics, buying food and other necessities for the ‘workers’.

The 17 young people kidnapped at the Cascais house had been enticed in Taiwan, with the promise of easy, well-paid work in Europe – never telling them what their particular destination was.

“At first they thought they were going to France, but then they came to Portugal. They landed in Lisbon in March and were put in a van directly to the Cascais house, where they never left until we were released in our operation in late May. “reveals the head of the UNCT.

As soon as the young men arrived at the Cascais house, the man who brought them from Taiwan (and who was detained by the PJ) took their passports and personal mobile phones and was then told what they had to do: their mission was to deceive other Chinese. Under the threat that if they refused, their families and friends would retaliate.

A complete script for the swindle

They were given a script with the steps of the approach they had to take to convince those who would be their ‘victims’.

They trained the speeches with each other, perfecting the type of language and mastery of technical concepts, until the recruiter understood that they were fit for real telephone contacts.

Already with the scheme well worked and trained, they were posing as a police or judicial authority that approached the person saying that he had committed an illegal access to internet content not allowed in China. “It may happen that the target does not even have internet, but as they are calling thousands of numbers through a computer application, there is always someone who meets and fits this vulnerability,” says Manuela Santos.

In the first phase there was no talk of money, but then contacts followed, with new papers prepared. Young people pretended to be powerful government officials who dramatized the situation and put pressure on the person to solve the problem

At this time various personal information was being requested from victims, from the composition of their household, to their activity and income. Everything was pointed out on pre-prepared sheets of paper.

The UNCT brigade seized some of these notes in Mandarin, which it showed to DN, but most were destroyed and stored in black garbage bags scattered around the house. “After completing the operation and the money was transferred it was all shredded into machines,” says chef Santos Martins.

The information obtained from this contact served to better prepare the next approach. In the third and final stage, an amount of money was then required to prevent the arrest of the person, who was informed that an arrest warrant had already been issued on his behalf.

Alarmed, everyone opted to transfer to an IBAN provided to them by the group. “The earnings are estimated at thousands of euros,” says Manuela Santos.

A blatant historical

In the PJ operation, two members of the organization were arrested. Twenty-five mobile phones were seized, as well as so many laptops and various wireless equipment – calls were made with mobile phones without cards, only through wifi .

All defendants and young victims have already returned to Taiwan, as the Portuguese investigation aimed to dismantle this criminal core within the Taiwanese inquiry.

The successful operation was kept under reserve at the request of the Taiwanese authorities as they intended to complete the investigation in that territory.


The 11,000 kilometers separating Portugal from Taiwan were no frontier for this investigation and, with the contribution of the PJ operation, the country’s police were able to arrest the head of the network this week.

The Taiwanese Criminal Investigation Office praised police cooperation, in a process that, as the PJ pointed out in its official statement on Tuesday, had a historic moment: “This was the first time in Europe that police authorities had been able to dismantle in full performance, such an organized group “.