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Scams and swindles

Con artists dupe 630 consumers in Hong Kong out of HK$12.5 million in online shopping scams in first four months of 2018

Gangs took payments for goods such as electronic products and concert tickets but never sent them to online consumers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 7:46pm

Con artists duped at least 630 consumers in Hong Kong out of HK$12.5 million (US$1.59 million) in online shopping scams in the first four months of this year, police said on Thursday.

The total was almost four times more than the amount for the same period last year.

The surge prompted local police to mount a two-week operation, leading to the arrest of 20 Hongkongers on suspicion of cheating 185 people out of HK$519,000 in online shopping.

Superintendent Raymond Lam Cheuk-ho, of the force’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, said the 20 included 13 men and seven women, aged between 16 and 48. They included four suspected ringleaders and five core members of four online scamming gangs. The gangs took payments for goods such as electronic products and concert tickets, but never sent them to online consumers.

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The other 11 suspects included holders of bank accounts, he added. They were believed to have received monetary rewards for letting their accounts be used to collect the payments.

Lam said the suspects were arrested on suspicion of obtaining property by deception, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Officers seized computers, mobile phones, bank cards and documents in a series of raids across the city during the two-week operation that ended on Wednesday.

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Acting chief inspector Yeung Wan-ming, of the bureau, explained the online consumers had been lured with promises of discounted designer goods, electronics products and concert tickets. The victims realised they were conned, she said, “after they made the payments, did not receive the goods and could not get in touch with the seller”.

Between January and April this year, 632 online shopping victims lost a total of HK$12.5 million, police said. Last year in the same period, there were 541 cases in which online scammers bagged HK$3.2 million.

Lam said police would continue to mount enforcement actions to combat such illegal activities, adding that consumers should stay alert and verify sellers when shopping online.