CRIME

Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip falls victim to HK$500,000 cybertheft

Former security chief has HK$500,000 stolen from her bank account, but insists no documents relating to her Exco role were compromised

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 February, 2015, 2:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 February, 2015, 2:42am

Former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is counting the cost of an online security lapse, revealing yesterday that her bank account was "taken over" and about HK$500,000 transferred out after her email was hacked.

But Ip, also a lawmaker, said there was no possibility that government documents related to her role as a member of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's Executive Council could have been leaked. A spokeswoman for the Chief Executive's Office confirmed that Exco documents were never delivered by email.

The New People's Party chairwoman believes she let her guard down to the scammers when she opened an attachment on an email purportedly from MTR Corporation chairman Dr Raymond Chien Kuo-fung.

"He wrote in the email, 'Regina, I need help. Urgent. Please open the attachment'," Ip said yesterday. "I thought a friend needed help so I opened the attachment at once. I guess that's when I fell into the trap." Ip, who on Sunday revealed she was laying the groundwork for a possible chief executive run in 2017, said Chien emailed her hours later, saying his account had been hacked and advising her to change her password.

"Because I was busy, that was an oversight on my part; I forgot to change the password," Ip said.

Chien could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ip said she only found out about the scam on Tuesday when a member of staff from her bank contacted her to tell her a US$65,000 transfer had gone through and another transfer had been requested. It is understood the money was moved out of Ip's account in Switzerland to an account in the US.

"I believe they found … an instruction I once made to the bank to transfer a sum in US dollars to an account in the United States," Ip said. "They then forged a letter to instruct the bank to transfer US$65,000 out."

Ip shot to prominence in 2003 when, as security minister, she was the public face of the government's drive to implement national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law. She resigned amid mass protests that derailed the plan, and has since emerged as one of the city's most high-profile and divisive politicians. There is no suggestion of any political motive for the crime.

Asked about Ip's case yesterday, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said he had no details, but police would spare no effort to investigate regardless of who the victim was.

It is unclear whether Ip will have the money reimbursed.

A police spokesman said the case was reported on Tuesday and was being treated as one of obtaining property by deception. No arrests had been made. Police figures showed a 25 per cent year-on-year fall in cases involving unauthorised access to computers last year. But the sum stolen rose by 31 per cent to HK$1 billion.

Police advise the public to avoid downloading documents from unknown sources, change passwords regularly and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.