A special police task force against online crime has warned auction sites to be wary of people posing as overseas buyers using foreign bank accounts to pay for goods. This ploy has been among the most common tricks used by fraudsters, often from Hong Kong, who helped push up the number of online fraud cases to 391 cases in the first half of this year, up 33.4 per cent compared with the same period last year. The losses amounted to HK$7.43 million. For the whole of last year, police recorded 623 online scams. 'Scammers not only aim at the goods, but also the victims' trust,' said Chim Tak-ming, chief inspector of a New Territories North regional crime unit team, who led the task force. 'This is very important. Once a trade is finished, the fraudsters have built rapport with the victims, and they will make up some reasons and cheat them again, through e-mails or by phone, for more money.' A common method is to pose as overseas buyers and send fake e-mails with the names of non-existent banks to trick the seller into believing money is being transferred. This entices the seller to send off the merchandise without payment. The task force was set up in November to combat online auction fraud. So far, 34 people have been arrested in connection with 131 cases. Detective Senior Inspector Wong Chi-ming, who led the task force with Chim, said most of these buyers claimed to be from Britain, the US, the mainland or Taiwan, or to be making transfers from banks there. 'Online fraud cases have no border. Any person can carry out such scams on the internet,' he said. He said all of those arrested had been from Hong Kong. Cases involving overseas suspects or bank accounts were referred to the law enforcement agents in those countries. Eddy Choy Wai-fu, detective superintendent of New Territories North Regional Crime Headquarters, said the task force had started a system with Hongkong Post and some major delivery agencies to retrieve items sent to suspected scammers. From February to May, the force retrieved 10 items sent to Britain, the US, Italy and Malaysia. These included hi-fis, watches, handbags, and even baby strollers and iPhone cases. Choy said auction site users should always trade face-to-face. If they really need to trade by electronic means, they should first check their accounts to confirm the money has been paid before they send items, Choy said.