Vietnamese court issues SMS swindlers suspended sentences, fines

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A court in Da Nang City on Thursday handed down a total 87 months in suspended sentences and levied VND105 million (US$5,042) in fines to four people charged with using the Internet and telecom networks to "appropriate the property of others."

The Son Tra District People's Court sentenced Nguyen Thanh Vu, 31, Hoang Ngoc Duc, 26, Nguyen Tran Anh Phuong, 22, and Nguyen Thanh Tung, 22, to 30, 24, 18 and 15 months' probation respectively and fined them between VND10 and 30 million each.

Nguyen Van Tinh, 28 and Nguyen Thanh Tam, 24, were fined VND15 million each.

According to the indictment, Vu, Phuong and Tung together gave a Nghe An resident named Duc VND20 million to help them set up a system designed to defraud people via text messages.

The group then sent messages to cell phone subscribers informing them they had won a cell phone and instructing them to send an encoded text message to a certain number in order to claim their prize.

But the number provided was that of a Vietnamese online game provider, which requires gamers to send messages using an assigned code and their personal gaming account screen names.

Before sending the deceptive messages, the group had created many game accounts with names identical to those of the cell phones the victims were informed they had won.

Every message sent by victims of the scam cost them VND15,000, which was transferred into the gaming accounts of Vu, Phuong and Tung.

The scam earned the trio gaming credit worth VND20 million in the first 20 days of January 2010.

Concurrently, Tinh and Tam, both siblings of Vu, used the same methods to defraud victims out of VND5 million.

Roughly 730 phone subscribers were victims of the scam.

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