Money-swap scams to rise, police warn
Police have warned of a surge in so-called money-swapping scams in shops frequented by tourists ahead of the 'golden week' National Day holiday.
The scams, which involve customers using HK$1,000 notes to buy a few cheap items and then complaining about the change to distract busy shopkeepers, saw an 83 per cent year-on-year increase in the first seven months of the year to 22 reported cases.
Amy Wong Mei-yee, assistant regional crime prevention officer of the police Kowloon West regional headquarters, said some fraudsters spoke Putonghua.
Despite the reports, no arrests have been made. However, Wong warned of a higher risk of money- swapping during the forthcoming 'golden week' holiday when shops are usually swamped with customers and easily fall victim to the scam.
'Many shopkeepers were not aware of the scams until the criminals had gone,' she said, acknowledging it was difficult to crack such cases. Fraudsters would chat to shopkeepers to distract their attention and confuse them into giving extra change.
Similar tricks have been used at money exchange booths in tourist areas, where conmen handed over a large pile of Hong Kong banknotes, asking them to be changed into yuan notes.
When the money is almost ready, they suddenly ask to end the transaction and demand their money back. At the same time they swiftly retain some notes and hand them back to the shopkeeper asking for the same amount to be exchanged again. Without recounting the banknotes the shopkeepers suffer a loss.
The Tourism Board predicts 660,000 visitors will flock to the city during the annual seven-day National Day holiday on the mainland. Police will step up patrols.
Meanwhile, shoplifting recorded a 5.4 per cent drop in Kowloon West to 1,269 cases in the first seven months of the year. But there were a number of cases involving luxury watches, mobile phones, handbags and jewellery.
Connie Lee Hong-nee, regional crime prevention officer for Kowloon West, said shoplifters usually posed as customers and asked to see a number of luxury items during peak hours. Chatting to shopkeepers to distract their attention, they secretly remove an item and leave without buying. Shopkeepers only discover they have been robbed when they check their stock.
Lee said there had been 12 crimes involving visitors as victims during last year's 'golden week', all of them foreigners. Four of them had their luggage stolen while they were checking in at hotels.
The rate at which pickpocketing cases in Kowloon West rose in the first seven months of the year
- Theft cases rose 7.9pc