Girl, 14, becomes Hong Kong’s youngest victim of a phone scam, losing HK$7,500 to con artists
Sham Shui Po resident among seven secondary school children cheated out of HK$100,000 by bogus mainland officials
A 14-year-old girl has become Hong Kong’s youngest victim of a phone scam after two con artists posing as an immigration officer and a mainland official duped her out of HK$7,500 earlier this month.
The Sham Shui Po resident was among seven secondary school children aged between 14 and 17 cheated out of a total of HK$100,000 by bogus mainland officials over the phone between July 3 and July 9, according to police.
The Form One student told police she had received a call from a man claiming to be a Hong Kong immigration officer on July 5, and was accused of being involved in a money laundering case.
“He then transferred the call to another man who claimed to be an officer from Shanghai’s police authority, who instructed her to transfer money to a mainland bank account to prove her innocence,” a police source said.
He said the victim had been told the money was to be used as a “surety”.
As instructed, the victim transferred HK$7,500 to the account via a money exchange store on the same day.
She realised it was a scam when she told her parents what had happened two days later. She submitted a report to police on July 7.
Between July 3 and July 9, police handled 33 reports of phone scams involving bogus mainland officials. That figure was well above the average of 12 cases a week reported in the first five months of this year.
Another five students, who were studying overseas but had returned to Hong Kong for the summer holidays, also fell for scams in the same week, losing HK$250,000 between them.
“We believe the main factor behind the surge is that the summer holidays have begun and the chance of students answering phone calls from telephone scammers is high,” acting chief inspector Cheng Chak-yan of the Kowloon East regional crime unit said.
He said the students had previously been busy with their studies overseas and had not read news reports on previous cases or police warnings. Officers would therefore enhance their publicity campaign to warn youngsters, he said.
Separately, police arrested a local university student – a 21-year-old woman – accused of having been recruited by telephone scammers to collect HK$1.5 million from three victims in the city between July 8 and July 15.
“Initial investigations showed she was paid HK$14,000 by a phone scam syndicate to collect money and transfer the cash into bank accounts on the mainland,” Cheng said.
One of the three victims was a 19-year-old woman instructed to hand over HK$50,000 to the suspect at an MTR station in Kwai Chung on July 9.
Police pored over security camera footage to identify the suspect, who was then picked up in Tin Shui Wai in the early hours of Sunday. Officers said she was likely to be released on bail on Monday.
The acting chief inspector said the suspect was among four other Hongkongers recruited using monetary rewards to help phone scam syndicates collect cash from victims in the city since March.
In the first five months of this year, telephone con artists posing as bogus mainland officials cheated 253 victims out of HK$92.5 million. There were 173 cases involving HK$97.1 million in the same period last year.
In the whole of last year, police handled 656 phone scam cases involving fraudsters posing as mainland officials, in which the victims lost a total of HK$203 million. In 2015, there were 1,423 such cases, involving HK$292 million.
The largest loss ever recorded in the city from a phone scam came in March last year, when a businessman from Yuen Long was cheated out of HK$58 million.
Typically, phone scammers tell victims a parcel they have mailed has violated mainland laws, before transferring them to someone claiming to be a mainland official. The victim is then instructed to prove their willingness to cooperate by transferring money to a mainland bank account.
Local police said mainland officials would never ask people for money to prove their innocence or request online banking passwords over the phone or via the internet.