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City Weekend

Hongkongers’ cash lost to online dating fraud triples to HK$95m, figures show

Single professional Hong Kong women fall victim to sweet-talking con men on online dating sites

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 9:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 9:15am

Hong Kong women who opened their hearts and purses to online dating scammers lost HK$95 ­million to fraudsters last year – ­triple the amount in each of the previous two years, according to shocking new police figures.

Women were the victims in more than 90 per cent of online dating scams investigated by ­police since 2014, prompting fresh warnings by the force.

In 2016, 114 cases involving HK$95 million were reported to police – almost four times the number of cases recorded in 2014, when HK$30.3 million was lost to con men. In 2015, 62 cases were reported and the amount of cash stolen reached HK$32.4 million.

Hong Kong’s gender imbalance and marriage pressure blamed for rise in online dating scams

Local detectives are working with their counterparts in Malaysia and Nigeria to combat the growing problem which generally features scammers in foreign countries targeting single, professional Hong Kong women in their 30s and 40s.

The cash is usually difficult to recover because the fraudsters live outside Hong Kong and use different aliases.

They are known to research their victim’s interests through their social media profile before contacting them through an online dating platform.

After establishing an online ­relationship over one or two months, fraudsters often swindle their victims by claiming to face financial difficulties due to a business crisis or an accident when asking for money.

Cheated hearts, empty pockets: online dating scams in Hong Kong and abroad

The victim then transfers a ­significant sum to a foreign bank account, sometimes in several transactions, having been led to believe her new-found love will eventually travel to Hong Kong to marry her. The swindler then halts all contact.

One investigation by Hong Kong police last December led to the arrest of 14 members of an online dating scam syndicate. Officers believe the gang was involved in 73 other scams in Hong Kong which cost victims HK$60 million.

A police spokesman urged Hongkongers to remain vigilant when chatting to strangers online, and to avoid revealing personal details.

“Ignore requests to borrow money and meet in private places or send private photos,” he said.