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Scams and swindles

Phone scammers cheat Hong Kong woman, 23, of parents’ HK$1 million life savings with fake arrest warrant

Victim told to open mainland bank account and transfer money there for ‘investigative purposes’ by two men claiming to be immigration and police officers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 10:47pm

A 23-year-old woman lost her parents’ life savings after two con artists pretending to be a Hong Kong immigration officer and a mainland official duped her out of HK$1 million.

The woman – a recent graduate – told police the money belonged to her parents and she was managing it for them, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

It is understood that the victim is the oldest of two children, and had been living with her parents, both blue-collar workers, in Sha Tin since moving to the city from the mainland in 2005.

The woman told police she got a call from a man claiming to be a Hong Kong immigration officer on Sunday. He said she was accused of being involved in a criminal case, then transferred the call to another man claiming to be an officer from Shanghai’s police authority. The second man accused her of being involved in an online scam.

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“[The victim] was directed to a website that displayed an ‘arrest warrant’ for her as well as an ‘asset restraint order’,” a police source said.

“She was asked to go to Shenzhen [on Monday] to open a bank account and transfer money to the account for investigative purposes, but she also surrendered her bank account details, such as passwords.”

As instructed by the scammers, the woman transferred HK$1 million in two transactions through a money exchange store in Sha Tin on Monday.

She realised it was a scam when she found that all the money had been withdrawn from her mainland bank account. She called police shortly before 3.45am on Tuesday.

The source said the arrest warrant and asset restraint order were fakes.

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By Tuesday, no one had been arrested.

According to police, mainland law enforcers would never ask someone to hand over money to prove their innocence or request that they provide online banking passwords over the phone or the internet. They also do not issue online arrest warrants.

In the first six months of this year, phone scammers posing as mainland officials cheated 293 victims out of HK$109.6 million. There were 176 cases involving HK$98.1 million in the same period last year.

Last year, police handled 656 phone scam cases involving fraudsters posing as mainland officials, in which 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 for a phone scam came in March last year, when a businessman from Yuen Long was cheated out of HK$58 million.

Despite the city’s overall crime rate being on a downward trend in recent years, the number of deception cases rose 5.7 per cent year on year to 3,561 in the first six months of this year, prompting the force to set up an anti-deception coordination centre earlier this month.