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16 entities face tax audit for fraudulent financial consulting services

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By Lee Kyung-min

A total of 16 entities are under tax audit for organizing "leading rooms," or fake online financial consultancies, the tax authorities said Thursday. Some of them used artificial intelligence-generated advertising materials featuring celebrities to help make their "services" look more legitimate and enticing.

Many victims fall for the false promise of a windfall, prompted by financial anxiety and frustration. The sentiment is best encapsulated by the most common comment, "Everyone has made a fortune but me," shared among members of an online community.

However, the sense of desperation, unfounded optimism and risk-taking beyond what might be considered sensible leads to a deadly mixture.

The National Tax Service (NTX) said the 16 entities deliberately failed to report income and falsified tax invoices after receiving up to 100 million won ($72,833) in annual membership fees.

Some of their unreported income came to 10 billion won, a hefty amount paid by victims, whom they talked into taking out card loans to pay the membership fees.

The methods used to defraud victims had a pattern. The scammers sent text messages or messenger app chat alerts about how they "can make quick cash in a short period of time."

Their persuasion skills were effective, with some gullible investors ending up paying costly membership fees and a sum of initial investment funds, interspersed with extra requests for money here and there.

This continued for weeks and months. Almost always, the funds were nowhere to be found and the scammers were not reachable.

According to the National Police Agency, complaints over fraudulent online financial consultations soared to 3,235 between September last year and March.

The combined amount swindled came to 297 billion won.

Experts say survivorship bias is a factor, a form of selection bias that can lead to overly optimistic beliefs because multiple failures are overlooked. It can lead to incorrect conclusions because of incomplete data.

"The sad part is that they don't see it until it's too late," an industry watcher said.

Lee Kyung-min


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