Revellers' drinks spiked in ATM scam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


Police are warning revellers in Wan Chai nightspots to be wary of having their drinks spiked after a woman was arrested for allegedly clearing out an expatriate man's bank account using his ATM card.

The 44-year-old Chinese woman was charged with theft after she allegedly repeatedly used a 22-year-old's ATM card while the victim was present, but apparently unaware of what was going on, a police source said.

The victim - who the source said had close to his daily limit of HK$30,000 withdrawn from his account using different ATM machines after he went out drinking in Wan Chai - was found in a dazed state and given a drugs test.

The initial results of the drugs test were inconclusive. The source said further investigations were under way to see whether or not his drinks were spiked before the theft from his bank account in Central about 5am one morning.

The arrest, on March 31, took place as part of a police investigation into long-running but so far unconfirmed reports of men having their bank accounts cleared out after having hypnotic so-called date-rape drugs, such as Rohypnol, slipped into their drinks in Wan Chai bars.

Victims are taken to ATM machines and shoulder-surfed as they make withdrawals, investigators believe. Their cards are then stolen while they are in a daze and used to make multiple withdrawals at different ATMs before being put back in their wallets.

A police spokesman said of the March 31 case: 'Multiple lines of inquiry are being pursued. The arrested woman was charged with theft and will appear in Eastern Court at the end of June.'

The spokesman appealed to men who believed they might have been victims of theft after going out drinking in bar districts like Wan Chai to report the matter to police immediately. 'Although reports by such victims are rarely made, police take a very serious attitude with regard to the possibility of commission of such crimes,' he said.

'Police appeal to the public that when frequenting places of public entertainment always be alert to the possibility of consuming drinks that have been spiked with a colourless, odourless and tasteless substance.

'Never leave drinks unattended. Do not accept drinks from strangers. Be wary of drinks that are served already out of a sealed bottle.

'It is good practice to be in the company of friends, as opposed to being alone. Accepting invitations from new acquaintances to visit their residence or hotel rooms should be considered a high-risk activity.'

There have been numerous, unconfirmed reports of men being given spiked drinks in Wan Chai bars since a visiting Finnish police inspector was found dead in a hotel with traces of Rohypnol in his blood in 2003. A Chinese woman suspect was never traced.

Prostitutes who ply their trade in the bars and streets around Lockhart Road are believed to be slipping so-called date-rape drugs - Rohypnol, gamma hydroxybutyrate, which is known as GHB, or Ambien - into the drinks of already worse-for-wear punters and then emptying their bank accounts.

The drugs leave victims drowsy and easily swayed, making it easy for prostitutes to persuade them to withdraw money from ATM machines. The women take the money when they are out of range of closed-circuit television cameras. Victims usually remember nothing.

In many cases, says a senior investigating officer, the women - sometimes operating in pairs or as a trio - take men who have been drugged to the HSBC ATMs in Hennessy Road, where they look over the shoulders of victims to get PIN numbers.

They then take the bank card and use it themselves at other ATM machines with no security cameras before returning the card to the wallets of their victim, who will sometimes have been left to sleep it off in a bar or guest house.

Victims are usually too embarrassed or confused to report the crime, and often only discover how much has been stolen when it is too late to conduct a drugs test.

The senior officer said: 'Victims have to report it straight away. They must go to the police, get to a hospital, have a blood test taken, and then we will be able to categorically say this individual has some sort of narcotic in their system.

'If it isn't reported straight away, there's nothing we can do to prove an individual was drugged. These things [drugs] metabolise quite quickly.'

Asked about the scale of the problem, the senior officer said: 'I don't want to exaggerate it. But I would say we are definitely not seeing the true number of crimes being reported. The few we do receive are indicative of the fact there is a bigger problem out there going unreported.'