A rude shock confronts North Korean refugees in their efforts to start a new life in South Korea as they get hit by insurance frauds, a hazard of capitalism.
Insurance scams have for years been common in the South, and fraudsters in recent years have targeted the refugees as sometimes unwitting accomplices.
Advertisement"Sometimes defectors get involved because they don't know how the insurance system works. They just have no idea what they are doing is wrong," an official at the Hanawon resettlement centre told AFP.
All North Koreans who flee their impoverished communist homeland for the South must spend their first 12 weeks at the centre, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Seoul.
It offers job education, information on South Korea and basic survival skills -- such as buying a subway ticket, opening a bank account and using a credit card.
From May it has also offered a new two-hour course on insurance fraud, with investigators from the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) warning about the possible consequences.
"We expect that through education, defectors will think twice before making a decision to become an accessory to fraud," the official, who supervises the course, told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Newly arrived refugees get government financial help but often must repay big debts to the brokers who arranged their escape via China.
This makes them susceptible to taking part in frauds, which focus on bogus medical insurance claims.
After the refugee has bought a private policy or enrols in a state scheme, or both, insurance company workers typically conspire with hospital administrative staff to issue fake certificates of treatment.
When a refugee has been reimbursed by the insurance company, and sometimes by the government, he or she hands over a portion to the accomplices.
"I received about three million won (2,700 dollars) and used the money to pay debts when I came to South Korea," one woman in her late thirties told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.
Police in Gyeonggi province surrounding Seoul, a known centre for the scams, said that over the past five years ending March refugees received a total of 3.1 billion won from 31 insurance companies in bogus claims.
"It's prevalent and we are constantly investigating to catch them," said a provincial police investigator.
The watchdog FSS says refugees typically send 30 percent of their takings from the frauds to brokers in China and the rest to family still in the North.
In one case in 2008, police said they had charged 41 refugees accused of receiving a total of 420 million won through bogus medical claims.
"Insurance fraud has become almost the common thing to do among defectors after they come to South Korea," Chun Ki-Won, a priest who helps the refugees, told AFP.
"The primary reason why insurance fraud is rapidly increasing is because it's becoming harder for defectors to adapt to a new environment."
Refugees find it harder than their southern-born counterparts to find well-paid jobs and some complain of discrimination.
In a survey conducted by legislator Kim Young-Woo, 66 percent of refugees described their living conditions as difficult.
Some 56 percent said their monthly income is below 500,000 won (450 dollars) -- officially deemed to be the lowest sum on which families can manage.
About 17,000 North Korean defectors have gone through the Hanawon centre since it opened 11 years ago, and it is currently holding about 500 people.
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