Hong Kong police bust transnational love scam that duped women out of HK$60m

Officers travel to Kuala Lumpur for series of raids in an unprecedented cross-border operation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 3:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 December, 2016, 3:05am

In an unprecedented joint operation, Hong Kong, Malaysian and Nigerian police have busted a syndicate running online romance scams which duped nearly 90 women out of HK$60 million, ­local officials said on Friday.

The transnational racket, based in Malaysia, had swindled 73 Hong Kong women out of HK$58 million since 2014, according to Hong Kong police. The gang also cheated 13 Malaysian women out of HK$2 million.

The biggest victim was a middle-aged professional from Hong Kong who was conned out of HK$9.1 million, according to Superintendent Lam Cheuk-ho of the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau.

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The woman became acquainted with the swindler through an online dating platform last summer, but nine months passed before she realised she had been duped and sought police help in April. It is understood her money was laundered through more than 10 bank accounts in Malaysia and Nigeria before police lost track of it.

The gang was allegedly headed by a pair of lovers – a Nigerian man, aged 36, and a Malaysian woman, 46. They were among 13 people nabbed in Malaysia last week during the joint operation. Hong Kong police officers went to Kuala Lumpur ahead of a series of raids between December 5 and 8.

“Half of the core members were responsible for using computers to create fake identities, and searching for and contacting victims, while the other half handled crime proceeds and remitted the money out of Hong Kong and other countries,” Lam said.

Describing it as the “biggest and a sophisticated syndicate” that preyed on Hong Kong women, he said the gang also targeted victims in Europe, the United States and Australia.

Scammers typically disguised as “Caucasian” European or American men, claiming to be professionals in fields such as engineering, banking, business or the military, befriended victims online. It would usually take them at least one or two months to win the trust and sympathy of victims.

“Victims were told their so-called lovers would fly to Hong Kong to marry them and send wedding gifts and assets,” Lam said. “But they were then told the gifts and assets had been confiscated by local authorities and victims were asked for help to pay handling and administrative fees or a surety.”

Some victims were told their “lovers” had run into trouble and needed money urgently, among other excuses.

“Don’t trust sweet-talking people easily,” Chief Inspector Hui Yee-wai advised.