Why Hongkongers should stay wary of phone scams

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 3:39pm

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Deception has never been easier in the digital age. While the formula for criminals taking advantage of weaknesses in human nature remains unchanged, the growing use of advanced technology in a globalised environment makes people more vulnerable to predators from different corners of the world. The phone scams recently encountered by many Hongkongers are a case in point.

Typically, fraudsters pose as officials from Beijing’s Liaison Office and other government agencies, warning potential victims that they have breached mainland rules. They are then directed to bogus law enforcement agencies, where they are directed to provide more personal information and, ultimately, money to avoid any “trouble”.

The cases are not entirely original. They take advantage of people’s respect for authority and prey on those who are vulnerable to persuasion and pressure. While the plot is simple, at the other end of the phone line is a sophisticated network of criminals. The syndicates first recruit mainlanders with bogus job advertisements. The workers are then taken to an offshore base, usually in Southeast Asia, where they are locked up and trained to lure victims according to scripts. Those identified as likely to fall for the deception will be passed on to scammers at higher levels.

Thankfully, two such deception rings were busted in Cambodia and Indonesia. One of them has duped Hongkongers out of a total of HK$118 million in 431 cases, compared with the total of HK$266 million in 1,255 cases recorded by the Hong Kong police over the past 10 months. Separately, two Hongkongers were arrested early this week in a crackdown on a HK$1.8 billion money laundering scam.

The regional authorities are to be commended for their joint efforts to crack down on these increasingly rampant crimes. Unfortunately, other rackets are still in operation. Unless everyone stays alert and vigilant in guarding their personal information, predators can always find the next target.