POLICE have warned of a growing trend featuring unscrupulous debt collectors cheating small companies. Assistant divisional commander for Central police, Chief Inspector Ng Koon-yung, said there was an emerging new criminal trend whereby debt collection firms collected money for small companies and then promptly closed down their businesses without givinga cent to creditors. He said the number of such cases were on the increase, with cases sometimes involving several hundred thousand dollars. ''They [unscrupulous operators] invest $1,000 for registration to start their business. The companies are small-scale debt collection companies,'' he said. ''They usually . . . send the information to their clients through faxes, claiming they provide debt collection services. ''Their popular tactic is 'hit and run'. They shut down their business after collecting money from debtors. It is difficult for the company owners or the police to locate them.'' Five cases in Tsim Sha Tsui were reported this year. Tsim Sha Tsui Assistant Divisional Commander (Crime), Acting Chief Inspector Tse Tak-ming, said the operators usually required the debtors to pay the debt by cash cheque. ''Small-scale companies usually fall victim to these unscrupulous operators, as they do not want to take a long time or go through the legal procedures to recover their loans,'' he said. Chief Inspector Tse said the public should approach large-scale, reputable and reliable debt collection companies to recover their loans to avoid being cheated. Acting executive secretary of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, Lau Tat-ming, suggested its members gather more information on the debt collection companies before appointing them. Fight Crime Committee member Justein Wong Chun said the situation could not be solved until a licensing system for debt collection was introduced.