Cybercrime surges in Hong Kong fuelled by email scams and extortion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 4:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 10:10am

Cybercrimes are the hardest cases to detect and the toughest to crack, the police chief said yesterday, as figures showed technology crimes surged by 70 per cent last year despite the overall crime figure dropping to a 10-year low.

And only about 10 per cent of the hi-tech cases were resolved - a far cry from the overall crime detection rate of 43.2 per cent.

The rise in technology crime was fuelled by e-mail scams targeting businesses and extortions arising from racy video chats on the internet.

Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai-hung said differences in jurisdictions' definitions of cybercrimes added to investigators' problems. "In Hong Kong, even the theft of points used by online gamers is considered an offence, but it may not be the same elsewhere," he said.

The police chief reeled off the data in his annual report as the force prepared to upgrade its technology crime division to a cybercrime investigation bureau led by a chief superintendent. The team numbers about 100 at the moment, but 75 more staff will be brought on board.

Tsang, however, warned that police could do little if the victims had not stored their data properly, or if overseas internet service providers and law enforcement agencies were unco-operative.

This year, the police would also intensify efforts against drug trafficking by young people, he said, after the number of those aged between 10 and 15 arrested for such offences doubled to 95 last year, from 52 in 2012.

Technology crimes, mainly involving online scams, increased to 5,133 cases last year from 3,015 in 2012.

Total monetary losses almost quadrupled, from HK$238 million to about HK$863 million.

Fraudsters out to con companies through e-mail deception saw the biggest rise among all online scams, totalling 1,153 reports and HK$760 million in losses.

Tsang said there were only 430 such cases in 2012, involving HK$180 million in losses.

"One of the most common ways companies fall victim to such scams is when staff fail to verify e-mails from supposedly regular business partners and follow scammers' instructions, making payments to scammers' bank accounts," deputy commissioner for operations Stephen Lo Wai-chung said.

Blackmail reports rose 150 per cent to 733 cases, largely due to a sevenfold rise in "sextortions" - in which victims were blackmailed over recordings of steamy online video chats with crooks overseas. The money was mostly transferred to the Philippines.

Last year saw 477 such reports, compared with just 60 in 2012. No arrests have been made.

Other crimes that increased year on year included homicide, deception and drug offences, although the overall crime figure - at 72,917 cases - was the lowest in a decade, Tsang said.

Homicide cases would have dropped if the 39 deaths resulting from the 2012 Lamma ferry tragedy had not last year been ruled victims of homicide, he said.

Burglaries were at their lowest since 1971, falling by 641 cases to 3,573. Robberies also decreased by 116 cases to 500. No firearms were used in any of the incidents.