Yes, Foreigners Can Be Scammed in Taiwan Too

Fraud rings will go to great lengths to trick both Taiwanese citizens and foreign nationals into forking over their hard-earned money, as I found out the hard way. However, there are several ways you can protect yourself, assist efforts to combat this illegal activity, and help those often trafficked and forced into such work by criminal actors.


It’s 6:30 on a Sunday evening in early October. I’m on my way out the door to meet some friends for dinner. My phone rings. 

Many of my fellow expats choose to ignore phone calls from unfamiliar numbers. Several Taiwanese friends use an app called Whoscall, which identifies numbers and helps block spam. Since I am in the midst of a job hunt and am accustomed to receiving calls at odd hours, I have done neither.  

“Hello, is this Mr. Han Kao-jui?” the person on the other end asks, using my Chinese name. “Yes, it is,” I answer.  

It’s a response that I will forever regret, as what took place next was a series of missteps on my part that led to me being manipulated into handing over to a fraudster a large portion of my savings in Taiwan. 

Telefraud is rampant in Taiwan, as most people who have lived here long enough (including myself) would know. The number of fraud cases involving phone calls and other communication channels like the messaging app LINE has risen sharply over the past three years, according to a July 2022 report on local online outlet Storm Media. The report, citing Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) statistics, noted that between 2019 and 2021, such cases exceeded 71,000, with the fraudulently obtained assets totaling more than NT$14 billion (US$43.9 million).  

Judging from those figures, it’s obvious that the pandemic has had no deterrent effect on the activities of these groups. In fact, a situation in which more people were spending more time at home and not in the company of others might have encouraged actors to ramp up their efforts. If you haven’t received at least one call or text (or both) per week enticing you to quickly “get in on a great investment opportunity,” have you even been in Taiwan in the past year?  

Many of the calls are robocalls, and the texts are obvious spam. But that was not the case with the people who tricked me. There was a human being on the other end of the line who knew my name and had detailed information about an actual product that I had purchased just two months previously from a real e-commerce website.  

Another cheery caller from the same group then claimed to be a representative from my bank and provided detailed instructions on how to cancel an “incorrect transaction” through the online banking app. Since this bank’s customer service center operates 24/7, I felt I had no reason not to trust them. Unluckily for me, I hadn’t seen the Taipei Times article published in August warning of just such a ploy. 

Once the line went dead and the harsh reality of what had occurred sank in, I collapsed in panic. What had I just done? My innate trust in people, my difficulty with the local language, my rush to get out the door to meet friends, the high degree of safety in Taiwan, and the interminable experience of most banking-related transactions here – these factors had combined, allowing me to let my guard down just long enough to be swindled out of a significant amount of money. How could I have let this happen? 

Taking action 

More importantly, what was I supposed to do to rectify what had just happened? I was alone at home and not in the right mind to sit down and sift through the abundant and sometimes conflicting Chinese-language information on how to stop a scammer before they abscond with your money.  

Instead, I ran straight to the local police station and reported the incident. But even at that point, it was already too late. The several minutes I was held on the line likely gave the caller’s co-conspirators just enough time to withdraw the money I’d transferred from a local ATM and walk away unnoticed into the night. 

That doesn’t necessarily need to be the case for you. Here is an English translation of five actions you can take to stop a scam and hopefully get your money back. 

1. Dial the CIB’s Anti-Fraud Hotline. This number is hard to forget: 165. As long as you have all relevant information on hand, including the remitting and receiving bank account numbers, the amount of money involved, the time of the transaction, and where you were during the transaction, this service can try to implement a mechanism that locks the scammer’s account. Otherwise, you will need to immediately go to your nearest police station to file a report.  

2. Download the 165 mobile app or make a report on the service’s website. This entails essentially the same process as the one above. Both the app and website are in Chinese, so try to enlist some native-speaker help. In addition, if you decide to report through this channel, you will still need to go in person to the police station to finalize the police report by recording your statement. 

3. Dial the police emergency hotline. A call to 165 is not actually considered a formal police report. To make an immediate report, call the National Police Agency’s emergency hotline at 110. This is the fastest way to get police to put an alert on the scammer’s account. Doing so locks the account and, if implemented in time, can prevent the scammer from withdrawing your money or transferring it to another account. 

4. Visit the bank branch for the account the scammer was using. If you are able to report the scam early enough to prevent your funds from being withdrawn, take the document issued to you by the police after filing the formal report, referred to in Chinese as a sanliandan (三聯單), to the branch of the bank at which the scammer’s account was opened and file to have your money returned. You will also need to bring proof of your bank account and your ARC. They will have you fill out an application form and sign an affidavit for the return of your assets. The application must undergo a lengthy verification procedure, so expect to wait around 2-3 months before you can get your money back. 

5. File a lawsuit against the scammer. This is only relevant if you know who the scammer is. With so many fraud rings based overseas, many of us will never have a clue who took our money. However, on the off chance that you are familiar with them, and they have already run off with your assets, you should go to the police station to file a report and press charges. You can also visit the district prosecutor’s office to file a criminal lawsuit, or you can hire a lawyer to write a criminal complaint and have it sent to the prosecutor to file the suit on your behalf. 

Learning to cope 

As long as you can communicate in a basic Mandarin-speaking manner or are in the company of a reliable Mandarin speaker, reporting a telefraud case in Taiwan is a fairly straightforward process. What is much harder is dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout of being defrauded of your possessions, your money, or your time.  

There is a reason I decided not to publish anything about what happened to me for several months after it took place and that, until now, only my parents and a few very close friends knew about the incident: I was deeply, profoundly embarrassed and ashamed of myself for having “been so stupid.” 

Considering the great number of people in Taiwan who are scammed each year, there is startingly little Chinese-language information available on how to heal emotionally from what is for many an incredibly traumatic and life-changing experience. Although the scant Chinese resources were less relevant to me, there were not many in English either. Many of the web links that turned up on a Google search of “emotionally healing from a scam” referred readers to a book by American psychologist Cathy Wilson titled The Emotional Impact of Being Scammed and How to Recover.  

If you or someone close to you has been scammed, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It helps victims recognize and put a name to the grief, shock, and complicated emotions they experience from being scammed. This is an important first step in the healing process.  

Wilson’s book also details the different psychological tactics scammers employ to influence their marks. Scammers are clever and have studied the most effective ways to manipulate even very intelligent people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do.  

Probably most importantly, Wilson’s book provides guidance on how to heal and forgive yourself after being scammed. This may be the hardest thing to do for most of us who have survived scams, as it entails acknowledging what happened as a mistake we made and not as our fault.  

Even with this knowledge, many find it difficult to accept what has happened and move on. Some survivors experience such shame and negative thoughts toward themselves after being scammed that they attempt or complete suicide, Wilson notes in her book. If you are an English-speaking target of fraud in Taiwan and are having trouble getting past your experience, please consider reaching out to a counseling center that provides services in languages other than Chinese.  

The Community Services Center Taipei in Tianmu offers English-language counseling services from counselors licensed to practice in Taiwan. Reduced rates are available for those with fewer financial means. If you’re experiencing extreme emotional distress about your situation, consider calling the Center’s 24/7 crisis line at 0932-594-578. 

The other casualties 

On the other hand, it’s important to point out that many working for fraud rings are victims themselves. One need only refer to numerous recent news reports about Taiwanese lured in with the false promise of legitimate employment only to be virtually imprisoned and forced to engage in telefraud schemes.  

Such issues are certainly not new in this region; over the years, reports have found that human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor is common in Asian fisheries, as well as the agricultural and other industries of Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific countries. 

Perspective matters here. Losing a bit of money can seem like a small matter when compared to the trauma of being kidnapped and coerced into harmful, illegal activities in a foreign land (although I in no way intend to minimize the pain felt by those who have lost much of their earnings or savings in a scam).  

While most efforts to combat forced labor trafficking in the Asia Pacific are conducted by and between law enforcement authorities of various countries, several organizations are dedicated to promoting awareness and dispelling myths surrounding human trafficking. Some work directly with police and other agencies to rescue trafficked persons and help restore their lives.  

Given the outsized impact of human trafficking on countless people and their loved ones, if you are reading this, please consider donating or finding other ways to support one of the international or Asia-Pacific-based anti-human trafficking NGOs supporting the fight against this crime. Two of note are the International Justice Mission (IJM) and South East Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities (SISHA). 

I’ve known about the scourge of Taiwanese telefraud for many years but was long under the false impression that fraud rings don’t target foreigners because they assume most of us can’t speak Chinese. That is largely true, and I believe that my situation was an outlier. But I’ve now learned that the people who run these groups have the capacity to patiently guide foreigners with even an intermediate level of Chinese through a process that could ruin them financially and potentially end their time in Taiwan.  

As Taiwan continues to rapidly internationalize and aggressively promote bilingualism, those who operate telefraud syndicates can and will find ways to overcome current language barriers and attempt to defraud more foreigners visiting or residing in Taiwan. My hope is that this article provides a useful future resource for English-speaking foreigners in Taiwan who find themselves a target or survivor of a scam. You’re not alone. 

George Hanson is a pseudonym used by the author.