The courts were yesterday urged to impose harsher penalties on con artists in an attempt to halt a dramatic rise in street scams. Prosecutor Jasmine Ching made the request to District Court judge Richard Davies after he convicted a trio who tried to trick a middle-aged woman into buying cheap batteries at a massively inflated price. The woman, who had been cheated by three other conmen just three days earlier, pretended to have been duped before alerting patrolling policemen. Ms Ching showed the judge police statistics revealing a sharp rise in the number of reported street scams in recent years - from 85 in 1997 to 252 in 1999. The statistics also showed that victims lost more than $4 million in street scams last year. Although Judge Davies said he considered it appropriate to increase the sentence, he adjourned sentencing until July 17 so defence lawyers could prepare arguments against increased penalties and the prosecution could present more statistics on the crime. 'Of course this is not the first case of its type,' Judge Davies said. 'They are taking place around Hong Kong. 'This lady [the victim of this case], among the great population in Hong Kong, has been subjected to this type of scam twice within three days . . . I consider it appropriate to enhance the sentence.' Li Yunjin, 29, Chau Wun-shing, 47, and Man Tin-on, 35, pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to obtain property by deception. Man pleaded guilty to one separate count of obtaining property by deception. All three were visiting Hong Kong from the mainland. Li approached Ting Chun-yu on March 24 in Lei Muk Shue in the New Territories and offered her $200 to watch over some goods in his vehicle. As Ms Ting had been cheated on March 21 by three men who played the same trick, she pretended to agree, said the prosecution. Later Chau appeared and Li also offered him $200 to help look after the goods, which he said were expensive electronic components. Instead of the $200, Chau asked for some of the components. Li pretended to reluctantly agree, the court heard. Shortly after Li left, Man approached Chau and Ms Ting and asked where he could buy a large quantity of special batteries, which he said he was willing to pay $300 each for as they were essential to his company. Chau showed Man what looked like a battery and he claimed it was what he was looking for. Chau then took Ms Ting aside and persuaded her to make a profit by buying Li's batteries and reselling them to Man. Ms Ting pretended to agree and led Li to a bank to withdraw $10,000. On the way, she signalled a patrolling policeman who had handled her case just a few days earlier. At the bank, she alerted another policeman and the trio was arrested. The 'electronic components' were later found to be ordinary button-cell batteries, similar to those used in watches, costing $5 to $15. The court heard Man had played similar tricks on March 5 in Wan Chai, successfully swindling $200,000 from another woman, Ching Shuk-hei.