Loan sharks lure gambler to Macau with honey trap
A casino loan-shark gang used a 'honey trap' racket to lure a Hong Kong man to Macau where he racked up gambling debts of HK$180,000 in a day, police revealed yesterday.
The case came to light as part of a city-wide police operation called 'Outviewer', in which authorities this week staged raids in 10 locations across Hong Kong and arrested 24 people. The operation uncovered illicit loans to Hong Kong gamblers totalling HK$10 million.
Investigators said the gang's honey trap strategy was used in only one case involving a computer programmer in his 30s. The victim met a girl on an internet chat room last month, and she enticed him to travel to Macau to meet her:
'He was picked up by the girl at the ferry terminal in Macau and then was told that her relatives worked at the casino,' said an investigating officer.
'She claimed that her relatives would help him become a VIP casino member, and this would ensure him free tickets to and from Macau as well as free hotel accommodation.'
After reaching the casino, the man was persuaded to gamble. After losing all of the money he took to Macau, he borrowed more cash from loan sharks in the casino, the officer said.
'He lost all the money and owed HK$180,000. He was then held by the loan sharks, and the girl disappeared,' the officer said.
Eventually, the man was escorted back to Hong Kong and taken to his home in Tsuen Wan. The loan sharks left after verifying his home address and contacts.
He called the police after he was unable to settle the debt and received threats from debt-collectors.
Police said the honey trap scam was rare in the city.
Police said the victim was one of more than 100 debtors who borrowed money from loan shark syndicates in Macau after losing heavily at casinos.
'The loans involved ranged from tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars to HK$300,000. The total amount of loans reached more than HK$10 million,' another officer said.
Police are still calculating whether interest rate was charged by the loan sharks. The legal rate cannot exceed 60 per cent a year.
One debtor borrowed HK$200,000 but was asked to pay HK$300,000.
The officer said the gang used debt-collection tactics such as nuisance calls, painting threatening slogans on walls and chaining the doors of debtors' flats.
Officers from the the New Territories South regional crime unit staged Operation Outviewer on Wednesday.
In total, 22 males and two females, aged from 17 to 49, were arrested on suspicion of lending money at excessive interest rates, money laundering, criminal damage and assault.
'They are members of a local gang that is linked to loan shark syndicates in Macau and responsible for collecting money from debtors in Hong Kong,' the officer said.
Most of them are suspected triad members.
They have been released on bail pending further investigation. Last night, officers were still hunting for several others.
Police said they might seek help from Macau Judiciary Police to track down the teenage girl involved in the honey trap and members of loan shark syndicates.
The maximum jail term, along with a HK$5 million fine, that can be imposed on someone convicted of lending at an excessive interest rate