Swindlers turning to younger victims

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 12:00am

Police say soft-hearted youngsters are being duped with sob stories of flat phone batteries and delayed funds

Street swindlers are increasingly targeting youths, switching their attention from old people, their usual victims, police said.

They warned youths to be more wary when approached by strangers with stories ranging from having a flat mobile phone battery to a delayed remittance from overseas.

Of 32 cases of street swindling reported in New Territories South police region from January to May, nine targeted secondary school or university students.

'We are worried that as ... more young people are getting summer jobs, the number of street deception cases will continue to rise in the next few months,' said Chief Inspector Connitta Chau Sin-ping of New Territories South.

Ms Chau said most swindlers chose young people of the opposite sex as victims. They usually posed as mainland or Taiwanese tourists and claimed to have problems receiving cash from their relatives or that their mobile phone battery had run out.

'The swindlers often exploited the young victims' sympathy. They chatted with the victims about their culture and pretended to be well-off. The amount of money they asked for is usually smaller than other cases, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars,' she said. The swindlers often left victims with fake contact numbers, making it impossible for police to trace them.

In one case, a university student was tricked into using his credit card to foot the bills for a female swindler's one-day shopping spree for cosmetics and jewellery. In other cases, the victims swapped mobile phones with the swindlers, only to find out later that the phones they received were fakes.

Ms Chau added that officers have been deployed at street deception black spots in recent months, including the KCR University Station. Although statistics show a slight decline, police expressed concern over how street deceptions show little sign of abating. Despite repeated public warnings, swindlers continue to find victims with the same tactics.

Between January and May this year, 209 such cases were reported compared to 233 over the same period last year.

As in previous years, most of the victims lost money or mobile phones. Many elderly victims lost money and jewellery to tricksters who claimed to have the ability to keep their families safe by performing religious ceremonies.

'There is a slight drop in the number of deception cases. But we had hoped it would drop much more,' said Ms Chau. She repeated warnings against lending money or mobile phones to strangers. Ms Chau said that banks had helped them crack many cases by alerting officers to suspicious withdrawals of large amounts of money from elderly clients' accounts.

'But we also want to urge the banks not to lower their guard even if the amount of money withdrawn is not too large, as fraudsters are increasingly looking for a small sum.'