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Scams and swindles

Elderly woman in Hong Kong whose bank account collected proceeds of online romance scams arrested

Two women were duped out of HK$622,000 by swindlers and more than HK$420,000 of it ended up in the suspect’s account, police say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 2:55pm

A 70-year-old woman whose bank accounts were used to collect the proceeds of online romance scams was arrested after con artists duped two women out of HK$622,000 (US$80,000).

The suspect, from Hong Kong, was picked up in a bank in the city’s Western district on Tuesday, according to police.

A force spokesman said HK$424,000 of the swindled money was transferred to the suspect’s two accounts. Police said none of the swindled money had been recovered.

The elderly woman was arrested for money laundering, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison and a HK$5 million fine.

She was released on bail pending further investigation. Her relationship with the scammers, or whether she even had one, was unclear, and officers were investigating.

The victims – a 53-year-old from Hong Kong and a 57-year-old from Macau – were separately scammed after they met their fake lovers on social media platforms in November last year and March this year respectively.

The scammers pretended to be British and Turkish managers at two companies in the UK. They convinced the women to transfer money into five Hong Kong bank accounts.

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Police said the fraudsters borrowed money from the victims or claimed they needed money to pay handling fees after parcels sent to the victims were detained by overseas authorities.

The Hongkonger was conned out of HK$416,000. The other woman lost HK$206,000. The pair both realised they had been cheated in May and called in the police.

Last month, the Post revealed details of two big online love scams. A Hong Kong woman aged 56 lost HK$26.4 million in 18 months to a man pretending to be a financial analyst in Malaysia and a 42-year-old woman lost HK$14 million to a con artist she never met once during their eight-year online relationship.

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The latest figures show 159 people were duped out of HK$98 million in online romance scams in the first four months of this year – up more than 200 per cent on the 50 cases in the same period last year, when scammers bagged HK$21 million.

In the whole of 2017, 235 people were swindled out of HK$108 million in such scams, more than double the 114 cases in 2016, which involved HK$95 million.

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Scammers typically pose as white men, claiming to be entrepreneurs, professionals, military veterans or retirees, and befriend potential victims online.

After establishing trust, swindlers concoct reasons to ask victims to send money to designated bank accounts.

Police have said the requests almost always involve needing money urgently to solve a problem overseas.