(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s central bank is stepping up a crackdown on the so-called mule accounts used in online financial fraud after bank customers lost more than 60 billion baht ($1.6 billion) to such scams in the past two years.

The Bank of Thailand and other enforcement agencies have frozen almost 200,000 mule accounts — operated by people who facilitate the transfer of illegal funds on behalf of someone else — between March 2023 and April this year, Assistant Governor Daranee Saeju tells a news briefing on Thursday.

BOT, which regulates Thailand’s banking industry, will expand the clampdown by sharing the data base of risky customers among the banks, Daranee said. Individuals suspected of owning mule accounts will have their facilities locked and banks will tighten rules to make it difficult for them to open new ones by the end of next month, she said.

“The situation is getting worse with new cases coming in steadily,” Daranee said. “There are about 300,000 reported cases of financial fraud over the past two years. Normally one financial fraud case relates to five mule accounts, which means there are millions of accounts out there we need to deal with.”  

Asia’s Ultra-Rich Are Fending Off a New Breed of Scammer

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has struggled to curb a surge in financial crimes as people fall victims to scammers offering loans at cheap rate, high interest rates on deposits or through various ponzi schemes. The financial damage from online scams totaled 63 billion baht between March 2022 to May 2024, according to official data.

BOT has ordered the nation’s commercial banks to upgrade their security systems for online transactions within the fourth quarter by offering customers an option to lock their money from digital transactions and providing double authorization in transfers, Daranee said.

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