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Scams and swindles

Hong Kong teenagers targeted in social media sex scams and drug trade

Authorities say youth are at risk from con artists in online dating services; drug traffickers lure youngsters with big rewards

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2017, 8:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 4:23pm

A 14-year-old boy was among 186 victims of social media scams in the first quarter of this year, with more than HK$23 million cheated in total from unsuspecting clients, according to police.

Authorities said the teenager tried soliciting sex services via instant messaging but ended up losing more than HK$3,000 by paying the so-called “protection fee” for a girl he had intended to date.

Using fake profiles, swindlers claimed to provide casual dating services, sometimes involving sex, via social networking platforms and mobile applications.

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Chief inspector Rachel Hui Yee-wai of the police’s cyber security and technology crime bureau said victims who approached the scammers were requested to pay a “protection fee” online by buying credits for top-up cards as a guarantee for the safety of the women they wanted to meet. Users were told the fee was refundable.

“[The scammer would claim that] since the girl was involved in a business similar to prostitution, she might be in danger when she showed up,” Hui said.

After being asked for access codes and passwords for the cards, the victims lost contact with the scammers who would then redeem the cards.

There were 292 victims losing a total of HK$49.9 million in the first quarter of last year.

Another victim was a man in his 20s, who was duped of HK$500,000 after agreeing to loan a woman he had met online the money to repay her debts.

While most of the victims were men, police said the cases last year included a female victim.

Meanwhile, authorities also warned of an increasing tendency for drug traffickers to lure teenagers into the trade by using quick cash and free travel as bait.

Traffickers made offers via social networking sites and online discussion platforms. Teenagers were promised free air tickets and accommodation, or rewards of up to tens of thousands of dollars if they smuggled drugs successfully.

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Common destinations include Australia, New Zealand and South American countries.

“Teenagers involved were often told heavy penalties were unlikely for underage offenders … But in some overseas cases, underage offenders had been sentenced to imprisonment for over a decade,” senior inspector Bertha Chung Man-ling from the Narcotics Bureau said.

Police also said they would inspect suspicious advertisements as part of online monitoring.

A total of 31 Hongkongers, including four teenagers aged between 15 and 19, were arrested either locally or overseas last year for trafficking drugs. Some 2,928kg of drugs worth HK$3.97 billion were seized.

Last summer, a 15-year-old boy returning to Hong Kong from the mainland was arrested at Lo Wu border control over suspicion of smuggling 750 grams of heroin worth HK$510,000.

Earlier this month three Hongkongers aged between 19 and 24 were remanded in custody by Thai authorities after the trio was caught smuggling 12.3kg of cocaine worth about HK$11 million.

Any person caught in possession of a dangerous drug may be fined HK$1 million and jailed seven years, while traffickers face a HK$5 million fine and life imprisonment.