Victims of callous net scam arrested
Dozens of internet users have found themselves in trouble with the law after becoming the unwitting victims of an elaborate scam.
More than 50 people have so far been arrested by police investigating nearly 300 cases of fraud.
But most of them are thought to have been set up as innocent scapegoats.
The fraudsters set the ball rolling by offering items including concert tickets and electronic goods for sale on auction sites, with no intention of actually delivering them.
They then approach people with whom they have done business in the past. The scammers claim they do not have an internet payment account of their own and ask the clients if they would act as 'middlemen' by allowing their accounts to be used.
'The scammers first bought or traded goods and gained trust with these account holders,' a police officer explained.
Buyers purchasing the non-existent items send the money into the payment account, and the account holder then sends on the money to the scammers. But when the buyer realises he has been fooled, the account holder is left high and dry.
Buyers contacted the police after it became apparent the goods were not being delivered and attempts to contact the sellers had failed.
The police officer said: 'Officers tracked down the account holders and arrested them, but the money had been transferred to other accounts and the scammers had disappeared.'
Victims had paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudsters so far this year, the officer said.
He added: 'To avoid arrest, scammers refuse face-to-face transactions and use different fake internet personalities to cheat on the internet.
'Up to now, there is no evidence to suggest they work together or are controlled by the same syndicate.'
In January, police set up a unit dedicated to tackling the problem of internet fraud, attached to the New Territories North police region and backed by crime squad officers.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, the police director of crime and security, said there had been 278 online shopping fraud cases in the first half of this year.
Police were working with the Post Office and delivery companies to trace victims' property, he added.
Online shoppers are being urged to cancel transactions immediately should there be any doubts over the identity of any of the parties involved.
'Verification of the identity of other parties and ascertaining their credibility is recommended before the commencement of trading,' a police spokesman said.
'Whenever possible, consider trading in person or through a reliable intermediary platform to avoid falling into traps.'
The number of reported cases of internet deception in the first six months of this year, of which 70 per cent involved shopping scams