‘I was told to borrow HK$250,000’: one victim’s story, plus tips to foil scammers
Cash-strapped saleswoman Mandy gives a first-person account of how she ended up owing a large sum to money lenders
Last month, 20-year-old saleswoman Mandy noticed posts from an Instagram account that promised to pay up to HK$30,000 the first day anyone joined a programme. Details were scant, but the programme was billed as “absolutely not illegal or sexual”. Cash-strapped, Mandy – not her real name – contacted the person running the Instagram account, Ryan. She was escorted by Ryan’s colleague, Kelvin, to four money lenders to borrow a total of about HK$250,000 in cash. She handed over all the money to Kelvin. Feeling she had been scammed, Mandy contacted police. In total and counting interest, she must pay off more than HK$300,000 within two years. Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who is assisting Mandy, described her plight as “mission impossible” as she earns just HK$13,000 a month. PHILA SIU speaks to her:
“I needed money to pay for my family member’s surgery. I also had to settle my credit card bill. Financially speaking, my family is not doing well. I couldn’t think of any other ways to get that much money in just a few days. I fell for it.
“I was told that I had to borrow HK$250,000 from money lenders, and the money would be used for investment. I would then get a return of 30 per cent on that amount, which was HK$75,000. I was told that I didn’t have to pay off the loan. I met Kelvin, who took me to three money lenders on the first day to borrow money, which was all in cash. I handed over the cash to him. On another day, we went to another lender to borrow more money. I borrowed a total of HK$250,000.
“My family really needed the money, so I asked them when exactly I would get the promised return. They told me that I must borrow another HK$200,000 first. They said they had already contacted some lenders and that the lenders would contact me. I did not understand why. They said that if I did not do what they requested, I would not even get back the money I had borrowed. I was very afraid and so I reported my experience to police.”
HOW THEY LURE YOU
Fraudsters pretend to be public officials and demand money, claiming the customer is in trouble with the law. Last month, a 24-year-old bank worker was cheated out of HK$2.7 million by a con artist who claimed to be a mainland law enforcement officer. The fraudster told her she was suspected of money laundering and that she had to hand over her bank login and password to help with the investigation.
Fraudsters woo victims online, then convince them to part with their cash. Last year, two sisters were tricked out of HK$3.67 million over the course of three months by a married dock worker they met on an online dating platform. Chu Tak-fai, who was jailed for 3½ years, tricked them into thinking he needed money to repay company loans, and talked them into making investments.
Customers are told they have won the lotto and just need to pay a small fee to collect their windfall. In 2014, a 54-year-old retiree in Singapore was told he had won money in a lucky draw in Hong Kong, but he needed to pay S$4,300 (HK$24,700) to claim his prize as he wasn’t a resident. The same caller then told him the prize money had been invested on his behalf, winning him S$2.7 million at the horse races. By the time the retiree went to police, he had transferred S$310,000 to the scammer, which he never recovered, according to media reports.
Online business fraud
Customers buy something online, but the goods never arrive. Hong Kong horse trainer Richard Gibson revealed in January how he had been scammed out of HK$8.18 million while trying to buy a horse. He had been looking to buy a horse through an agent, but fraudsters sent him fictitious emails, requesting he transferred cash to bank accounts in Poland and Slovakia.
Corporate email scam
Fraudsters send fake emails to a company that look like emails from a firm they are genuinely doing business with, claiming payment for goods has not worked and needs to be sent again. Last year, a wire and cable manufacturer, German-based Leoni, lost €40 million (HK$370 million). A woman in the finance department in Romania got an email claiming to be from the company’s senior executives and asking her to transfer money out of the company’s bank account.
Personal email and phishing scam
Fraudsters hack an email account, then send out pleas for emergency money or malicious software. Earlier this year, email users in Ohio were defrauded out of US$35 million by a single malicious email scam. Users clicked on the email, which looked as if it came from legitimate sources but unknowingly installed malicious software on their computers. The software sent out more infected emails to people’s contacts and intercepted user names and passwords, helping the scammers steal credit card information.
Customers are offered a financial deal that seems too good to pass up. In May, a Hong Kong fund manager was sentenced to 8½ years in jail for swindling six pilots out of HK$25 million two decades ago. Curtis Cheung Ka-kim convinced the pilots to invest their money in his fund, claiming that it could yield an annual return of 250 per cent, but instead he fled the city with their cash.
GOLDEN RULES FOR KEEPING YOUR MONEY
1. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
2. Research the company or scheme before agreeing to pay any money.
3. If you’re being pressured to make a snap decision, it’s time to hang up.
4. If you’re being encouraged not to consult others, that’s a big warning sign.
4. Don’t answer emails from unknown senders.
5. Keep software up to date on your computer.
6. Use a spam filter, firewall and anti-virus software.
7. If you receive a phone call you think could be a scam, just hang up.
8. When in doubt, reach out for help. Call the police’s new Anti-Deception Coordination Centre hotline, or try the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Hong Kong Investor Education Centre, or Securities and Futures Commission for advice on investments.
9. Return calls through official phone numbers of an organisation – not a number that an unknown caller has left for you.
10. Think twice before sharing personal information, including passwords, financial details and photos, over public Wi-fi.