Under “military-first”, it pays to impersonate the military first

Wednesday 30th March, 2016

As North Korea’s ruling party maintains a “military-first politics”, a number of recent fraud cases involving the impersonation of military personnel were reported by sources currently living in Musan, North Hamgyong province.

Identities of Korean People’s Army (KPA) personnel and their family members have been employed by scammers in the past, according to testimonies by refugees. After contacting the family of an active duty soldier, a scammer pretends to be his or her superior, backing up the claim by sharing personal information about the individual.

They say that there is a problem, which some money will resolve. Thinking they are dealing with a figure who holds “military-first” authority, it is said the family are more likely to comply.

Sixty-five year old North Korean refugee Park So-yeong told us, “Three summers after we had sent our son to the army, a letter arrived. It thanked us, his parents, for his model service to the unit. The designation of his unit was written on the envelope as ‘287th Unit, Guard Company.’”

“When I heard this news about my son, I felt I could breathe again,” she said.

Ms. Park continued, “After a few days, a man who introduced himself as the political officer of the company visited us. He said our son had been injured during a training exercise and now admitted to hospital. We didn’t suspect him at all. We gave him money for the treatment and even handed over extra, entrusting the senior officer to look out for our son.”

“We were astonished to learn later that the whole thing, from the letter to the arrival of the political commissar, had been an orchestrated scam,” she said.

It also turned out that her son had never served in the 287th Unit.

Thirty-four year old North Korean refugee Kim Kwang-su told us, “There are brokers in the KPA who earn money by selling personal information, particularly about the better-off households.”

“They receive an initial fee for sharing specific kinds of personal data with buyers. If the impersonation leads to a successful outcome, they receive a small portion of the profits also. Military impersonations have turned into a systematic trade,” he said.

Mr. Kim added that due to many limitations on domestic travel placed on North Korean citizens, it only takes 2-3 local informants per district to maintain a good overview of target individuals in an area, including their financial picture.

“The local environment really helps in obtaining the resources needed for these scams,” he explained.

Oem Seong-hyeok is a 56 year-old North Korean who fled in 2013. He described his experiences of military-first authority abuses and told us, “Military impersonations happening under the party’s ‘military-first’ politics, is evidence of the policy’s inconsistencies.”

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