WeChat 'Red Packet' Gambling Rings Busted by Police in Shenzhen

By Phumelele Simelane, July 28, 2018

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Police in China have captured another chain of unlawful online gambling rings that operated via virtual red packets (hongbao) on WeChat, according to South China Morning Post.

Over the span of a year, Shenzhen police arrested 71 people for their involvement in gambling activities on Tencent’s WeChat and QQ platforms, the largest sum accounted for being more than RMB60 million, according to Xinhua. Many other provinces in China have also been affected by similar scams — including Jiangsu, Hunan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan — though representatives from Tencent refused to comment on the matter. 

READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Red Envelopes

One can gamble hongbao on WeChat by paying out to everyone in the group if they obtain the red packet with the lowest value. 

They can also gamble through a point betting system. SCMP explains:

"For example, a gambler who grabs a red packet of 12.07 yuan will receive 9 points by adding the last three digits of the red packet '2,' '0' and '7.' The person with the highest score wins the game and the points are converted into money when the game ends, according to Xinhua."

In some cases, robots were adopted to enhance the efficiency of gambling, according to Zhang Qian, deputy director of the Investigation and Supervision Department of People’s Procuratorate of Nanshan district in Shenzhen. Zhang noted that WeChat users are much harder to detect than casinos or gambling dens because they tend to use multiple accounts and frequently change private groups to avoid being tracked. 

To combat illegal gambling activity, Tencent recently developed techniques to block unusual accounts and activity on WeChat. WeChat’s security center has confirmed that in the second quarter of this year, the platform has shut down more than 8,000 groups related to gambling. 

READ MORE: Billions of Hongbao Sent Through WeChat for CNY

Hongbao (red envelopes filled with money) are distributed in China as tradition to symbolize the act of celebration. Virtual hongbao have become popular online in the past few years thanks to the rise of WeChat. According to stats from Tencent, as many as 768 million WeChat users sent or received red packets during the Lunar New Year Period, a 10 percent increase from the year prior. 

The first ever digital red packets were launched in 2011 by Sina Weibo and have since become an feature on other Chinese social networking sites.  

[Cover image via Weifly/Flickr]

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