Online manhunt for bogus film crew

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am

Production firm says three men claiming to be Portuguese stole equipment worth US$250,000

An online manhunt is under way to catch a bogus film crew who stole camera equipment worth about US$250,000 from a Hong Kong production company.

The victim of the scam, Wan Chai-based production house Asia Pacific Vision (APV), posted a video online to alert others, as well as a photo of one of the suspects posing with a camera he was about to steal.

APV managing director Christopher Slaughter said three men, claiming to be from a Portuguese firm called Lusa Producoes that was making a travel video about Hong Kong, disappeared on July 5.

'We provided a camera attendant and a driver, and took them around Hong Kong and shot for two days at the usual tourist spots ... We had an appointment with them on the third day and they didn't show up,' he said.

When police checked the men's Wan Chai hotel room, they had already checked out, paying in cash and leaving behind the empty boxes in which the equipment was stored. It appears they had used fake passports for identification.

APV was contacted through an online service, Kemps, which connects camera crews with rental services. The hirers seemed to have an authentic website and appeared knowledgable about cameras.

APV lost three digital beta cameras, tripods, a recording deck and wireless microphones.

The company has posted closed-circuit TV footage of one of the men, a photo of another who posed for a shot in front of the Hong Kong skyline the day before all three men disappeared, and the business card of the third man on video-sharing site

The clip has been viewed more than 11,600 times and several people have posted tips on how to track down the men. Some who have seen the segment said the culprits were probably Brazilian because the Lusa website was registered in Brazil, the spelling of some words on their business cards was Brazilian, and the man photographed with the stolen camera was wearing a Brazilian-brand T-shirt.

Investigations have also shown that Lusa Producoes does not exist, the address on the men's business cards belongs to a bank in Lisbon and the phone numbers they gave have been disconnected.

'These men used the internet to establish what passed as bone fide, and used e-mail and all modern communication means to trick us into believing they were authentic,' Mr Slaughter said.

The company has also hired the private detective agency I-OnAsia to help track down the bogus camera crew. Agency director Stephen Pengelly said the thieves had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the scam.

'If they sell the equipment, they might not get US$250,000, but it'll certainly cover their costs,' Mr Pengelly said.