Hong Kong and Taiwan police bust love scam syndicate in joint operation
Fraudsters duped 127 Taiwanese women out of HK$77 million which was sent to bank accounts in the city; eight Hongkongers were arrested
Police from Hong Kong and Taiwan have busted a syndicate running online romance scams which duped Taiwanese women out of over HK$77 million, according to Taiwan’s official news agency.
The racket, based in Taiwan, swindled 127 Taiwanese womenover the past 12 months, the Central News Agency reported on Friday.
The biggest victim was a woman in her 40s who was conned out of NT$17 million (HK$4.36 million) in three months although she had never met her “lover”.
Forty-five people including the suspected ringleader of the syndicate were arrested in Taiwan earlier this week.
Taiwanese authorities sought the help of Hong Kong police as money involved in the scams was laundered through bank accounts in the city, according to one source with knowledge of the investigation.
“The scams took place in Taiwan and all the victims are Taiwanese. Hong Kong police are involved because the duped money was transferred into bank accounts in the city,” he said.
Officers from the city’s commercial crime bureau were understood to have helped Taiwanese authorities track down the account holders.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong police arrested eight people, including several Hongkongers, in the city.
“Initial investigations showed they included suspected account holders and those who aided and abetted the opening of the bank accounts,” the source said.
When asked whether the suspects would be handed over to Taiwanese authorities, the source said they were likely to face prosecution in Hong Kong.
He explained that “they were accused of breaking laws in Hong Kong. They were arrested for the offence of money laundering that took place here”.
The Taiwan news agency reported that the victims aged between 35 and 55 got to know the swindlers through online dating platforms.
“The swindlers befriended victims and then lured them into making bogus investments and cheated them out of money,” the agency reported, adding that some of the women had to borrow from relatives.
The joint crime-fighting operation by police from Hong Kong and Taiwan came after three fugitives wanted by Hong Kong police over a grisly body-in-cement murder case were returned to Hong Kong in April last year.
This was the first coordinated law enforcement effort resulting in the return of suspects from Taiwan since the 1997 handover. There is no extradition treaty between the two places.
In 2015, police from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan mounted an unprecedented joint operation and cracked two overseas-based syndicates operating phone scams. They made 431 arrests. One gang, set up in Indonesia, duped Hongkongers out of HK$118 million in 431 cases. The other syndicate operated in Cambodia but did not target Hongkongers.