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Crime

Mainland Chinese visitor whose Hong Kong bank account was used to collect cash from online romance scam arrested

Woman, 42, picked up in Central in connection with swindle that saw victim cheated out of HK$800,000 over five months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 9:32pm

Hong Kong police have arrested a female visitor from mainland China whose bank account was used to collect some of the proceeds of an online romance scam that left a woman HK$800,000 (US$102,000) out of pocket over five months.

The 42-year-old suspect, holder of a two-way permit – a mainland travel document for entering Hong Kong – was picked up in Central, the city’s main business district, on Thursday.

She was arrested for obtaining property by deception, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Police said on Friday that the woman had been released on bail pending further investigation. She will have to report back to police in August.

The victim was a 37-year-old Hong Kong woman who was scammed after she met a man through a phone app in December last year, police said. The scammer claimed to be of mixed French and Singaporean descent and running an interior design business in France.

“The man claimed he had financial difficulties in business and borrowed money from the victim,” a police spokesman said.

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Between February and April, the victim transferred HK$800,000 into six local bank accounts, police said. She realised she had been cheated after she failed to get hold of the man. She sought help from police on May 24.

The spokesman said the suspect was the holder of one of the six accounts.

Police said some of the money was recovered but they did not give details.

The suspect was the second person arrested by police in connection with online love scams in three days.

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On Tuesday, officers arrested a 70-year-old woman after investigations showed her two bank accounts were used to collect HK$424,000 out of HK$622,000 swindled from two victims.

Last month, the Post revealed details of two big online love scams. In one case, a Hong Kong woman, 56, lost HK$26.4 million in 18 months to a man pretending to be a financial analyst in Malaysia. In the other, a woman, 42, was scammed out of HK$14 million by 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 – more than treble the 50 cases in the same period last year, when scammers bagged HK$21 million.

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

Scammers typically pose as Western 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.