E-mail fraudsters ramped up attacks against companies nearly 14-fold in the first quarter of this year, prompting police to set up a new squad to fight them.
Losses by Hong Kong and overseas firms totalled HK$23 million in the first three months, up from HK$1.18 million in the same period last year, police said. Overseas companies report losses to the Hong Kong police when their funds are diverted to banks in the city.
From six last year, the number of e-mail scams soared to 83 in the first quarter of this year.
Chief Inspector Joe Chan Chi-yung of the police technology crime division said international and local syndicates were behind the e-mail fraud, and 'combating them requires co-operation with overseas law enforcement agencies and related organisations'.
Attackers hack into the e-mail accounts of companies and use the information to impersonate business partners. Fooled into thinking they are dealing with their partners, the victims send payments to a new bank account, controlled by the hackers.
Chan said the sharp rise had prompted police to set up a new squad in the commercial crime bureau. 'Police are racing against time to track down the crime proceeds and retrieve money, in an effort to reduce the losses suffered by victims.'
He expressed concern about the crime trend, saying 'it is not a lot of cases, but it involves a large amount of money'. Last year, 155 cases of e-mail fraud were reported involving HK$49.25 million in losses.
The new squad will also tackle a new type of e-mail fraud that preys on individuals. Last month this scam hit its first known victim in Hong Kong for HK$1 million, when the victim tried to buy a high-end product over the internet. Swindlers hacked the victim's e-mail account and learned about plans for a HK$2 million purchase from a US vendor. They impersonated the vendor and tricked the victim into sending his money to a US bank account they controlled. Hong Kong police retrieved half of the money in this case.
The police force recorded 622 cases of technology crime in the first quarter of this year, a 37 per cent rise from 452 in the same period last year.
This year, police have arrested 33 people in connection with commercial e-mail fraud involving the loss of HK$12 million.
The number of e-mail business scams launched by local crooks in the first quarter; police say there were six in the same period last year