The 12 are being held in custody in China and have now been formally arrested. Photo: Chongqing police

A syndicate that targeted elderly widowers in rural areas looking for new wives was busted by Chongqing police earlier this month.

The arrests were made in the largest municipality in southwest China in early August after a one-year investigation involving a 60-year-old man who had appealed for police assistance to locate the new “wife” he had met online.

On August 12, Chongqing police told the Paper that the syndicate was spearheaded by a 70-year-old man surnamed Zhao, a repeat fraudster, and his four female accomplices who were all aged in their late 60s. They had been responsible for at least five sham marriages, each of which involved tens of thousands of yuan, according to police.

On June 27, 2018, a man filed a report claiming his wife was missing and officers from Jiaping Police Station in the Jiangjin District Public Security Bureau learned the man met the woman a year earlier after paying a middleman.

The man admitted that he and the woman were not married or living together, but he considered them to be husband and wife. Each time the woman visited him, she would ask for cash for living expenses. By the day the man filed the report, he had allegedly paid her more than 6,000 yuan.

The police eventually found five other victims who were all widowers living alone in Jiangjin District of Chongqing, Chongqing urban area, Xishui County of Guizhou province, and Yinchuan of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. All had fallen victim to Zhao and his accomplices.

Of the five suspects detained, ringleader Zhao had been convicted and served time in prison for committing fraud. Police were expecting further victims to come forward after announcing the arrest of the five-member syndicate The investigation is ongoing.

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