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Seoul to crack down on scammers preying on defectors
SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government will toughen its crackdown on swindlers and extortionists targeting North Korean defectors living in the South, officials at the Unification Ministry said Sunday.

   The ministry received a total of 41 complaints and petitions from defectors living in South Korea last month through the state-run North Korean Refugees Foundation and asked police to open investigations into six of them, the officials said.

   In four of the six cases, suspected scammers prodded the former North Koreans to falsely apply for asylum in a third country in an apparent bid to defraud them of their money, the officials explained.

   The defectors were induced to buy cars, mobile phones and other expensive products in South Korea before being led to apply for asylum in third-party countries, they said, adding the con artists soon resold the pricey items for profit.

   By contrast, the defectors ended up saddled with loads of debt after returning to South Korea following the rejection of their overseas asylum requests.

   In other cases, North Korean defectors were defrauded of their resettlement compensation paid by the Seoul government after being snared by extortionists.

   The South Korean government provides each defector with a subsidy of 7 million won (US$6,360) in cash in an effort to help them better assimilate, while they can also receive up to 13 million won to finance their housing.

   About 25,000 North Korean defectors have settled in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and a stream of North Koreans continue to defect to the South.

   A female defector said a defection broker came to visit her and threatened to send her back to the North unless she paid money, the ministry officials said.

   Another defector paid money to a would-be broker in return for helping to rescue his family from the North but eventually lost contact with the scammer.

   In recent months, several North Koreans were caught spying for Pyongyang, both voluntarily and under threat from the North's authorities, after falsely defecting to South Korea.

   North Korean defectors in China are said to pay anywhere from several million to tens of millions of won to brokers to reach the South.

  
A resettlement center for North Korean defectors in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, northeast of Seoul. (Yonhap file photo)



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