The overall crime threat in Taiwan is low. The majority of crimes occur in major metropolitan areas. Violent crime against foreigners in Taiwan is unusual; however, travelers should exercise caution and take personal security countermeasures appropriate to any major U.S. metropolitan city. In particular, travelers should pay close attention to personal belongings in crowded areas, such as night markets and during large-scale public events, where pick pocketing and petty theft is more likely to occur. Residential thefts do occur, particularly in buildings without 24-hour security coverage. [Source: Taiwan 2012 Crime and Safety Report Overseas Security Advisory Council — Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

Taiwan's police and law enforcement personnel are well trained and professional. Police support to foreign victims of crime is generally good. Police may expect victims to locate and bring witnesses to a police station to provide a statement. Police rarely have CPR training, although firefighters do.

Fraud is endemic throughout Taiwan. Victims are usually called by an individual claiming to represent the police, prosecutor's office, or other government agency, or the victim's bank, insurance company, or other financial institution. The perpetrator of the fraud persuades the victim to provide personal banking information or wire large amounts of cash to the caller by stating that the victim's funds are or may be involved in criminal activity. The caller also tells the victim that he is required to cooperate with the investigation by providing all the information asked for and by complying with all instructions given by the caller. Many of these frauds are perpetrated by criminals located in mainland China or Southeast Asia, making the successful identification, arrest, and prosecution of these scam artists difficult. Victims should immediately report fraud through the fraud hotline at 165.

In 2011, 349,205 criminal cases were reported to the police, a decrease of 6.11 percent from the previous year. Of this number, 4,141 violent crimes were reported, a decrease of 22.04 percent over the previous year; 116,913 theft cases were reported, a decrease of 18.11 percent over the previous year; and 23,896 cases of fraud were reported, a decrease of 16.14 percent over the previous year. In 2011, decreases were reported for all categories of crime except lottery fraud (+20 cases), guns seized (+138 cases), and grenade seizures (+4 cases). The clearance rate of cases in 2011 was 79.54 percent. The threat of kidnappings has greatly diminished over the years and is directed primarily at wealthy and/or high-profile Taiwanese individuals and families.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim: Fraud is particularly common in Taiwan. Individuals receiving calls asking for personal information, including banking or financial information, or money in the guise of a criminal investigation should not be taken in by this scam. Victims of fraud scams should immediately contact fraud hotline number 165. While the Regional Security Office does not list any areas that are off-limits to AIT personnel or family members, travelers are advised to avoid red light districts, brothels, massage parlors, "illegal barbershops", "nightclubs", or "hostess-karaoke bars" that are frequented by prostitutes. These establishments are typically run by organized crime, street gangs, and other criminals. Furthermore, visitors are advised to avoid provoking or engaging in fights in bars or nightclubs with local denizens.

Taiwan's crime jumped 80 percent between 1990 and 1996. In a survey in 1997, three million Taiwanese, a seventh of the population, said they had been assaulted or robbed in the previous six months. At that time the increase in the rate of violent crime was particularly alarming. To make matters worse only one third of the violent crimes committed in 1996 were solved. In Taipei, the crime rate dropped rate in 1998 after an aggressive anti-crime, anti-gambling and anti-prostitution campaign was launched.

Half the taxi drivers and many politicians in Taiwan have criminal records. Some motorcycles that are stolen in Japan end up in Taiwan. Criminal gangs have been linked to the theft of high end motorcycles such as Harley Davidsons.

Famous Murders in Taiwan

In November 1996, a county magistrate was murdered gangland style along with seven associates and family members. Masked gunmen broke into the house of Taoyuan County Magistrate Liu Pang-you, tied up the victims and shot each one in the head at point blank range. A Filipina maid who managed to hide heard one gunman mutter that Liu’s “crime” was being “just too obnoxious.” Liu has been involved in some shady business deals in the past and is believed to have been involved in a deal that went sour.

In December 1996 a woman's rights activist was raped, tortured and stabbed to death by a taxi driver who dumped her body in a deserted field. Her body was found naked and stabbed 35 times. A 21-year-old soldier was sentenced to death for killing a school girl and committing sexual acts on her corpse. The soldier worked at a museum where the girl had gone to work on a project.

In the early 2000s, a dead man was found inside a suitcase dumped at a temple with boxer shorts wrapped around his head. The victim had had passive anal sex and had spent time on a website that specialized in gay sadomasochistic sex on the day of his murder. An investigation of the account of a user who used the cybername Sadistic dog turned up a man who said it had rough sex with the victim who asked to be tied up and then died of asphyxiation when the perpetrator passed out from digital penetration. The death ended up being ruled an accident.

Celebrity Kidnappings and Murder in Taiwan

In April 1996, Pai Hsiao-yen, the 16-year-old daughter of the television celebrity Pai Ping-ping was abducted and found dead in a drainage ditch after she had been beaten, raped and strangled. While the girl was still alive her pinkie was severed from her hand and delivered to her mother with a picture of the girl naked with a bag over her head and a ransom note demanding $5 million. Four times Ping-ping agreed to meet the kidnappers. Four times they failed to show up.

The crime was masterminded by Chen Chin-Hsing, one of Taiwan's most notorious criminals. A career thug, he committed numerous rapes and robberies, once broke out of jail after receiving a life sentence and had BB-size balls implanted in his penis to bring pleasure to women.

In August, 1997, a shoot-out which resulted in the death of Lin Chun-sheng, another kidnapper of Pai Hsiao-yen, was watched by hundreds of onlookers and broadcast live on television. One passer-by was wounded and two suspects escaped. Another accomplice in the kidnapping had earlier killed himself. Chen reportedly had his face altered by an a plastic surgeon to avoid capture and then killed the surgeon and his wife.

In November 1997, Chen was finally captured after breaking into the home of a South Africa diplomat, and taking the diplomat and his wife as hostages. After shooting the diplomat in the leg and his daughter in the back, Chen gave himself up after doing a two-hour live interview watched by millions on television. In the interview Chen admitted that Pai died under his watch but it was an accident: she choked to death on a moon cake while on sedatives, he said.

Auspicious Days Don't Prevent Burglars from Being Arrested

In January 2012, the China Post reported: “Two burglars in southern Kaohsiung have been detained by police after running out of luck, even though they selected particularly auspicious days for break-ins. Police in Kaohsiung's Fenshan District found a raid schedule with a copy of the traditional Chinese farmers' calendar when arresting them. They said that they had pulled off over 20 thefts in two months by using the calendar that provides details on auspicious dates for doing things and unfortunate days for avoiding certain things in accordance with the lunar calendar. [Source: China Post, January 4, 2012 ~|~]

“The police tracked down the two by tracing stolen goods being sold on the market. The two told police that they selected particularly the dates most auspicious for holding weddings because many people tend to leave home for wedding banquets. Former businessman Wu Chun-Ji, 42, said he turned to stealing following return to Taiwan after his business operations in mainland China went bankrupt. He was already arrested a couple of times and has a criminal record. After meeting Wei Dian-chin, 52, a more experienced thief, in prison, the two came up with the idea of striking only on auspicious dates. ~|~

“The two admitted that they had already raided three empty homes on Jan. 1, a day with many weddings scheduled, before the arrest. Close to 20 families were prevented from being burglarized after the two were locked up since the two already mapped out plans and dates for at least 17 break-ins in the Kaohsiung area. Police officers urged residents to be on heightened alert for thefts ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays in late January. They suggested residents and neighbors join hands and help each other guard against possible burglary. Burglars normally shun communities where residents cooperate closely for public safety, said the police officers. ~|~

Taiwan-Mainland China Phone Scams

In November 2010, AFP reported: “Taiwanese police said they had arrested 23 people in a large telephone scam ring which conned hundreds of thousands of dollars from people on the Chinese mainland. The suspects allegedly obtained bank account details by posing on the phone as Chinese police officers or employees at mainland banks and telecoms firms, the Criminal Investigation Bureau said. They reportedly "notified" their victims that their accounts were being used for money laundering or that their phone bills were overdue, later using the details to empty the bank accounts, according to the bureau. They were arrested in several raids on Thursday while the police also confiscated 4.75 million Taiwan dollars (146,000 dollars) in cash as well as telecoms and computer equipment, it said. [Source: AFP, November 26, 2010]

Several months earlier, AFP and the Taipei Times reported: “The Criminal Investigation Bureau said fraudsters managed to con more than 1,300 people out of at least US$47 million Taiwan and China have arrested a total of 122 people on charges of telephone fraud in the largest-ever joint police operation carried out by the two sides, Taiwanese law enforcement officials said yesterday. [Source: AFP and the Taipei Times, June 23, 2010 |::|]

“Criminals in Taiwan call people in China and trick their victims into revealing their ID and bank account numbers, which they then use to empty victims’ accounts, the bureau said. Similarly, Chinese criminals target people in Taiwan, thinking the fraud is harder to detect than if they made domestic calls. The bureau said criminal groups managed to con more than 1,300 people out of at least NT$1.5 billion (US$47 million). |::|

“It said Taiwanese police cracked down on 57 locations in 12 counties on Monday, seizing NT$60 million in addition to the 66 arrests. In China, police simultaneously struck thousands of locations in more than 20 provinces. The bureau said that compared with the more than 24,000 cases of scam and fraud involving some NT$7 billion in the first half of last year, about 20,000 cases involving NT$4 billion were reported in the same period this year, which shows that the situation remains serious. |::|

Taiwanese- and Chinese-Run Scams in Vietnam and the Philippines

In April 2013, Thanh Nien News in Vietnam reported: “Twenty-three people from China and Taiwan along with a Vietnamese interpreter were arrested in the central province of Khanh Hoa for allegedly cheating people in China. Four of 23 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals arrested in the central province of Khanh Hoa Monday for running a phone scam to cheat residents in China. According to initial information, the foreigners, including three from Taiwan, rented a nine-room hotel in Nha Trang Town in June for nearly VND30 million (US$1,400) per month, and subscribed to high-speed Internet services. They then contacted organizations and individuals in China, mainly in Shandong province, that they’d found violating laws on several occasions, the arrestees told police. [Source: thanhniennews, April 10, 2013 ^\^]

“Posing themselves as officials in China, they asked their victims to give them their bank account numbers or transfer money to their bank account for investigations. Khanh Hoa police who busted the ring in cooperation with police from the Ministry of Public Security said their raid netted 37 landline phones and seven computers among other devices. ^\^

“So far Vietnamese police have arrested nearly 200 foreigners, mainly Chinese, on suspicion of using the same scheme on seven occasions from different localities like Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta. The latest arrest, of 59 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals, took place last month in the central province of Phu Yen. An official from the Ministry of Public Security said the fraudsters and their scheme appeared in Vietnam about one year ago, targeting Chinese people living in Taiwan, China, Vietnam and several other Southeast Asian countries. ^\^

Around the same time Oliver Teves of Associated Press reported: “Philippine authorities have arrested 16 Taiwanese in connection with an online scam that mostly targeted retirees living in China and Taiwan. The suspects pretended to be bank employees and persuaded victims to reveal their account numbers and other details, said Ronald Aguto, chief of the Computer Crimes Division of the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation. He said suspects called retirees and told them their accounts had been compromised and must be upgraded or changed. Others represented themselves as prosecutors and persuaded their victims to settle nonexistent complaints by depositing money to a syndicate's account, he said. [Source: Oliver Teves, Associated Press, April 3, 2013 ]

“The suspects, 15 males and one female, were arrested in three separate houses inside the Subic Bay Freeport, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Manila, Aguto said. He said the group used Internet telephone connections and read from prepared scripts when talking to the victims. "When they think they could not convince the person, they would say, 'Somebody will call you,' or, 'You can call this number of the prosecutor's office or another branch of government,' ... and they have another script for that," Aguto said. He said his bureau was tipped off by a concerned citizen and the scam had been going on for two months. Agents recovered computers, telephones and fake credit cards, some of them still blank, he said.

“Philippine police arrested and deported nearly 300 Taiwanese and Chinese nationals involved in a similar scam in 2012. Aguto said the syndicate continued to operate in small cells, including the one busted this week. He said that the suspects face charges of illegal use of electronic access devices such as ATM and credit cards. A more comprehensive anti-cybercrime law is still under review by the Supreme Court. If convicted, each suspect could face six to 20 years in prison. In last year's cases, however, the Philippine government sent Taiwanese suspects to their home country to face charges there, at Taiwan's request.

Scams Increase During the 2008-2009 Recession

In March 2009, when the Lehman Brothers global economic crisis, was at its peak, Ralph Jennings of Reuters wrote: “When 96 people from China arrived at Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei after paying hundreds of dollars to compete in a music contest offering big cash prizes, they soon discovered they'd been swindled. A con artist had faked invitations from the city of Taipei, pocketed the contest entry fees and abandoned the "contestants" at the airport when they arrived. Some of the musicians were so angry that they refused to return home. "We see more and more victims now because of the economic crisis," said Chu Yiu-kong, a criminologist at Hong Kong University. "Chinese people like money a lot, so it's easy to get trapped. Chinese people also believe in lucky opportunities, especially in difficult times." [Source: Ralph Jennings, Reuters, March 4, 2009 =]

“Criminologists say con artists often thrive in such desperate economic climates. Scams which police say are particularly likely to increase include job search deception, fraudulent money lending and getting people to pay hefty fees to obtain bogus lottery winnings or buy into supposedly lucrative business opportunities. In one type of scam that has recently become popular, swindlers prey on desperate job seekers in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China by posing as recruiters and asking for applicants to invest in the companies they hope to join. Those firms and the "investment" vanish by the time job seekers call back about their applications. =

"People will get desperate and morals will decline," said Chang Chin-lan, a prevention officer with Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau. Deception crimes rose by a third in Taiwan from about 31,000 in 2007 to 41,000 in 2008, police statistics show. Hong Kong police logged a similar surge in deception crimes in the fourth quarter of 2008, from 1,071 to 1,414 cases. =

“Economic hardship aside, more sophisticated technology has also helped to fuel the growth in scams, allowing con artists to cast their nets wider and dupe people across borders. Costly hoaxes began appearing en masse in Asia around 2001 with the rise of the Internet and mobile phones, which allow anonymity and shelter away from the long-arm of the law, sometimes several countries away, said Tsai Tien-mu, a criminology professor at Taipei Police College. "It's easy for anyone to reach anyone," Tsai said. "Before, an aggressor had to meet the victim." As con artists can easily hide, police struggle to crack fraud cases. Police officers in Taiwan solve just 10 percent of their cases. =

Juvenile Crime in Taiwan

Serious crime committed by juveniles became a serious problem in Taiwan in the 1990s. In 1997, 409 juveniles were arrested for murder. By contrast, Japan, which has five times as many people as Taiwan reported only 97 such arrests.

One crime that got a lot publicity involved four teenage boys in Chutung, a small city two hours south of Taipei. In the late 1990s, they took a 15-year-old girl captive and took turns raping her, beating her and torturing here with electric shocks for a week, in some cases while their girl friends watched or sat in front of the television. They were arrested after the girl died. The gang leader said the girl got what she deserved because she stole a pager and was being “a pain.”

Other high profile juvenile criminals from the 1990s included a 15-year-old dropout who stabbed her former classmate 86 times in a jealous rage; and a group of teens who tried to bury a classmate alive. Such violent crimes tended be committed by young people from poor families. The perpetrators were often from single parent homes and had problems in school. Many were were dropouts. The high crime rates were blamed on the inability of youths to express frustration; violence and sex on television and in video games, and a desire for thrills. Some places imposed curfews and shut down video parlors to address the problem.

Taiwan-China Crime-Fighting Pact

The “Agreement on Joint Cross-Strait Crime-fighting and Mutual Judicial Assistance”—a crime-fighting pact agreed upon by Taiwan and China—took effect in June 2009. It was reached in April 2009 upon the conclusion of the third round of talks between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Ping-kun and mainland China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin in Nanjing. The two bodies negotiate for the two sides in the absence of formal government-to-government relations. In addition to the agreement, the two representatives signed accords in which the two sides agreed to increase the number of direct flights and flight destinations between two sides, as well as to promote mainland Chinese investment in Taiwan. [Source: CNA, China Post, December 1, 2009 ||||]

In December 2009, CNA and the China Post reported: “Since Taiwan and mainland China agreed to provide each other assistance in fighting cross-border crime in June, the two sides have gradually established an institutionalized cooperation mechanism and have successfully cracked down on a cross-strait scam ring, a Taiwanese official said. Between June 25 and Oct. 31, judicial authorities in Taiwan and mainland China received a total of 4,199 requests to investigate and arrest criminals, according to Liu Te-shun, vice chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). ||||

“While it will take time for the cooperation platform to function more effectively, Liu said, he noted that judicial authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have achieved initial success in fighting crime by exposing a fraud ring and arresting 76 Taiwanese and more than 10 Chinese suspects in November 2009. Taiwan has also requested Chinese authorities extradite Taiwanese nationals who have committed economic crimes in Taiwan, taken advantage of the judicial loopholes, and fled across the strait, Liu said.” ||||

Joint Taiwan-Mainland Police Operations Against Phone Fraud

In 2009 AFP and the Taipei Times reported: Taiwan and China have arrested a total of 122 people on charges of telephone fraud in the largest-ever joint police operation carried out by the two sides, Taiwanese law enforcement officials said. Together, the two sides mobilized more than 1,000 officers for raids launched simultaneously against a number of criminal groups in Taiwan and China, the Criminal Investigation Bureau said in a statement.[Source: AFP, November 26, 2010 ]

“The joint operation has set a new example for the two sides' efforts to crack down on crimes,” the bureau said, adding that Taiwanese police had arrested 66 suspects from various gangs, while their Chinese counterparts rounded up 56. The arrests came as greater interaction between Taiwan and China has made illegal cooperation across the Taiwan Strait easier.

Since Taiwan and China signed the agreement in April 2009, the two sides have held a series of meetings and discussions in which they agreed to work together on scams, as they are a major problem for both, the bureau said. The two sides have together busted more than 60 scam rings operating across the Taiwan Strait, with more than 400 people arrested and about NT$10 billion in unlawful gains seized since the agreement went into effect last year.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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