Bank Clerk Who Stole $600K, Got Plastic Surgery, and Went on the Run Caught After 26 Years

The woman withdrew wads of cash from bank branches around the city, before giving money to her family, ghosting her husband and starting a new life 1,700km away.
Koh Ewe
After escaping authorities for 25 years, a woman in China has been charged with corruption and fraud for an elaborate scheme that saw her embezzling money from a bank and forging a new identity.
After escaping authorities for 25 years, a woman in China has been charged with corruption and fraud for an elaborate scheme that saw her embezzling money from a bank and forging a new identity. Photo: Adi ConstantinUnsplash

Making use of a flaw in the system at the bank she worked in, a young woman in southeastern China made off with almost $600,000 in 1997, underwent plastic surgery and escaped to another province to start afresh with a new identity.

But 25 years later, now a successful entrepreneur with a new husband and daughter, her fraudulent past has finally come to light.

The former bank employee, whom authorities identified by the pseudonym Chen Yile, was charged on Tuesday with corruption and fraud for the elaborate scheme after she was arrested in December, prosecutors in the city of Yueqing said in a WeChat post this week. 


Chen confessed to all her crimes and expressed remorse when she was caught, they added.

Back in 1997, the then-26-year-old counter clerk at a Yueqing City branch of China Construction Bank—one of the country’s largest—chanced upon a flaw in the bank’s system, which allowed her to freely edit the amount of money in an account and withdraw cash.

She bided her time until she learned of a staff shortage at one of the bank’s nearby branches, which she knew would be closed on the weekends. She then volunteered to be transferred there.

On April 12, 1997, a Saturday, Chen finally put her plan in motion. Sneaking into the empty bank, she keyed in new figures into her bank accounts, adding tens of thousands of dollars into each one—gaining a total of 5.66 million yuan ($835,000).

Chen then made her way into the city district with a suitcase, stopping at various bank branches to withdraw a total of 3.98 million yuan ($587,000) in cash. She also showed up to a clinic offering cosmetic procedures and went under the knife. It’s unclear what procedures she had.

Armed with wads of bills, Chen returned to her parents’ home on the same day to hide the money. She concealed a total of 1.43 million yuan ($211,000) in several spots around the house, including a shoddy toilet outside the house.

By the crack of dawn, Chen was already traveling south with her remaining cash, arriving at a bank in the neighboring Fujian province. There, she deposited 2.1 million yuan ($310,000) into newly opened joint bank accounts shared with her three siblings.


She paid a secret visit to her parents’ home three days later, revealing to her family the locations where she had hidden the cash, and left behind four passbooks for her family to withdraw more money. She ignored her father’s advice to surrender to the police. 

After Chen left, her father reported her to authorities and handed the passbooks and hidden cash to police, the local justice department said. Despite attempts to bring her to justice, technology at that time couldn’t catch up with Chen, who vanished overnight. 

But Chen was in fact on her way to Shanghai, in possession of just 400,000 yuan ($59,000) in cash. After securing a new ID card with the help of a middleman, Chen adopted a new identity as Jiang, registered to Guizhou province in southwest China—1,700 kilometers away from her real hometown in Yueqing City. But her final stop was the coastal province of Guangdong in southeast China, where she would begin her new life. 

Over the next 25 years, Jiang would become a successful entrepreneur, founding a cleaning supplies company. She also remarried and gave birth to a daughter, after ghosting her first husband after her theft in 1997. Her new family is believed to have had no idea about her fraudulent past until she was caught in December. She is now facing charges of corruption, identity fraud, and getting remarried without terminating her previous marriage. 


“For 25 years, investigators never gave up on arresting Chen,” the Yueqing People’s Procuratorate said in their post, adding that it worked with other government departments to systematically track her down—though it did not reveal how they did so.

But as Chen awaits the consequences for her decades-long lies, social media users have pointed to the dangers of such loopholes in the country’s banking system, which allowed employees to freely alter bank account figures. 

It’s unclear if the flaw that allowed Chen to withdraw lumps of cash has been fixed, but in 2014, 42 clients of a bank in Hangzhou lost a combined 95 million yuan ($14 million) after a bank employee transferred money out of their accounts. In 2020, a woman in Henan province discovered that over 1 million yuan ($147,000), which took her over a decade to save, had disappeared from her China Construction Bank account. Bank employees had stolen her money for gambling and investing, even overdrafting some 130,000 yuan ($19,000) in the process.

But for the most part, Chen’s stranger-than-fiction escape from authorities is earning bemused comments from the internet, with social media users mostly impressed by her resourcefulness. 

“Putting aside the criminal element, this is the script for how a female protagonist changed her life,” commented one Weibo user

“Having such courage at 26 years old, taking care of all her siblings, and even successfully starting a business… What talent,” said another. 

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