Jobless used as couriers for scams
Rising numbers of jobless mainlanders are being hired to pick up money for the masterminds of telephone scams who dupe victims into paying ransoms or money to help relatives, police say.
The scammers now avoid using bank accounts, which are too easy to trace, officers say.
Couriers who pick up the money in places including parks, busy roadsides and even outside police stations, get five to 10 per cent of the haul, which can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, chief inspector Chan Che-man, of the Kowloon East regional crime unit, said.
'[The tricksters] hire people just for a short time and it gives them cash in hand immediately,' he said.
Previously, he said, the callers would ask the victims to transfer money to a bank account, which would be changed frequently, but now preferred pick-ups, which were quicker and safer.
'Some [victims] put the money in plastic bags, others just put the money, tied with rubber bands, on the ground,' Chan said.
He said the two most common forms of telephone scam - bogus kidnappings and the 'guess who I am' scam in which the caller poses as a relative in need of cash - had been on the rise this year.
Superintendent Kevin Sin Chi-sing of the Kowloon East regional police headquarters said popular drop-off points included busy roadsides, parks or rubbish bins.
But in some cases, Kowloon Hospital and the Science Museum, and even a rendezvous point outside a police station, had been used.
In the first quarter of this year 539 phone scam complaints were made, up from 318 in the same period last year. Of these, drop-offs were used in 48 cases, up from 41.
The money involved totalled HK$5.48 million, up from HK$5.09 million. But the number of failed cases also increased from 213 to 382, indicating people were getting more aware of the scams.
Forty people have fallen victim this year, most of them retirees or housewives aged 51 to 70.
Chan said more than 80 per cent of the victims knew about the tricks.
'But at that time they were very nervous, which gave the scammers chance to cheat them out of their money,' he said.
Police have arrested 22 mainlanders and three Taiwanese over phone scams since the start of 2011.