Planes on high alert for credit scammers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am


Southeast Asian syndicates are using fake and stolen credit cards to defraud shops at Hong Kong airport and make fraudulent purchases on short-haul flights bound for the city, airport police warned yesterday.

The police reported five fake card scams on planes in the first 11 months of this year.

While that is down from 15 cases in the same period last year, the use of stolen credit cards in airport shops has risen to 16 from 12 last year. In one case, a 33-year-old Thai woman was arrested in July with five fake credit cards, after using three cards to buy goods worth more than HK$10,000.

She was also found to have been involved in previous scams.

Terence Lee Kin-wah, chief inspector for crime in the police airport district, said fraudsters choose short-haul flights because some have no satellite phone for verifying credit card details.

'If passengers spend a considerable amount of money to buy duty-free goods on flights, an authentication code must be obtained from the card centre by satellite phone. If there is no code for a card, you know the card is fake,' he said.

'The scammers will try their luck. Some airlines do not [bother with the] authentication code if a purchase is lower than a certain amount.' Lee said scammers usually spend HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 on cosmetics, watches or pens on planes.

The fake cards, believed to be made by syndicates in Southeast Asia, usually carry authentic-looking logos of overseas banks, although some are poorly designed, Lee said.

The cards carry magnetic strips mounted with banking data taken from people all over the world, but Lee said it was not known precisely how the information is obtained.

But Senior Superintendent Raymond Siu Chak-yee, district commander at the airport, said there was no evidence syndicates were targeting Hong Kong more than elsewhere.

He said some Southeast Asian fraudsters shop at the airport with credit cards stolen in Hong Kong and usually buy expensive goods like electronics and jewellery.

But he said luggage thefts have fallen this year to 39 incidents in the first 11 months, from 101 in the same period last year. Siu said many suspects were from South America, Southeast Asia and the mainland.

He said the stolen luggage is generally left unattended outside restaurants, shops, at check-in counters and even in the VIP lounge in the restricted area. An Asian man was arrested at Hong Kong airport last year for a series of luggage thefts at an airline's VIP lounge.

Siu said luggage theft was not a serious problem when the flow of passengers at the airport was taken into consideration. The number of passengers rose from 3.5 million in the first 11 months of last year to 4.1 million this year.

Some restaurants had set up areas where staff watch luggage for travellers. He added that police stay in close contact with airlines and shops to exchange information on incidents.

Police patrols will be stepped up during the Christmas holiday, when more tourists are expected.

The force has also set up a hotline for shopkeepers to report crime cases. They can also use e-mail.