Con artists have switched focus away from the elderly and are increasingly preying on the young by posing as tourists Street con artists have turned their attention away from the elderly and are increasingly targeting teenagers and even younger children. Police said the youngest victim this year was a child aged nine who was swindled out of a mobile phone by a fraudster posing as a tourist in distress. The good news is that the total number of street deception cases, which had been on the rise since 1997, has dropped. Up to the end of November, there were 497 such cases, down by 34 per cent from the 755 cases for the same period last year. There were 811 cases for all of last year. Senior Inspector Peggy Yip Ching-han of the Crime Prevention Bureau said that victims aged 60 or older numbered only 100 up until November, compared with 336 for the whole of last year. In contrast, the 205 targets aged under 30 now formed the largest group of victims. Most of the younger victims were teenagers or students who were approached by swindlers posing as distressed tourists, she said. The 497 cases involved a total loss of $21 million, compared with $44 million for the whole of last year. About $11 million of this year's losses involved the 'spiritual blessing' con in which fraudsters offer to help expel 'evil spirits' from the victim. Senior Inspector Yip said: 'Blessing gangs used to target elderly people aged over 60 in the past. But following our series of publicity activities, the number of elderly people being cheated has dropped. They've become smarter.' Police arrested 141 suspected street con artists in the first 11 months this year, comprising 136 mainland travellers and five Hong Kong residents. Despite the drop in deception cases, Senior Inspector Yip was reluctant to say whether this would be part of an ongoing decline. 'I can't say whether the number of street deceptions reached its peak last year, as there was the Sars outbreak this year,' she said. She explained that from April to June, during the outbreak, there were only 64 reports of street deception, compared with 194 in the first quarter and 140 in the third quarter. She said there were signs street scammers were becoming active again during the festive period. There were 42 street deception reports in the first three weeks of this month, including 12 'spiritual blessing' scams. 'All the [blessing] victims are women. The youngest victim is aged only 39,' she said. However, by far the most popular con trick is that of the 'distressed tourist'. There were 218 such cases up until November. In addition to 'borrowing' cash or mobile phones from good Samaritans, such fraudsters sometimes talked the victims into renting a hotel room for them. The culprits then checked out straight away to obtain the refund from the hotel for their short period of stay. Senior Inspector Yip said the swindlers usually preyed on greed, sympathy or generosity - and the best way to avoid being cheated was not to be greedy and be more careful when helping strangers. She said the force had been liaising closely with cross-border counterparts to better restrict visits by mainlanders with criminal records in Hong Kong. Senior Inspector Yip said police had stepped up anti-con education among students through school talks. Elderly people were being targeted via broadcast media. A total of 214 people were arrested for street scams last year, made up of 210 mainland travellers and four locals.