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Scams and swindles

Hong Kong and Guangdong police smash cross-border phone scam syndicate

Group of con artists would claim to have kidnapped victims’ family members to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 5:33pm

A cross-border phone scam syndicate, which was based in Foshan city and was thought to have pocketed one million yuan (US$150,500) from at least 10 fake kidnapping cases, was broken up by Hong Kong and Guangdong police last month.

The operation led to the arrest of 12 mainlanders, two of whom were caught in Hong Kong and were said to have duped three local victims out of HK$320,000 (US$40,800).

The latest crackdown came amid a sharp slump in the number of phone scams in Hong Kong. In the first five months of this year, police recorded 134 phone deceptions, a reduction of 64 per cent from the same period last year. Financial losses also slumped by 94 per cent to HK$8.03 million.

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Wilson Tam Wai-shun, chief inspector from the Hong Kong Police Force’s designated telephone deception team, revealed on Friday that the masterminds behind the syndicate bought communication devices and rented a flat in Foshan city to run a “deception centre”. They then hired people to find victims by making internet calls and told them their family members had been kidnapped. Scammers demanded money in exchange for their return.

“Scammers kept victims on the phone until they arrived at the designated location to pass money to another groups of culprits,” Tam said.

“Those who helped collect the money from victims would first take 15 per cent from the sum as a reward, then deposit the [rest of the] money into a bank account on the mainland so that their friends could withdraw cash at ATMs.”

After exchanging intelligence, law enforcers across the border mounted an operation code named “Skyloop II” on June 22 and 23.

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A phone scam ring based in Foshan city was also smashed last year during a similar operation by cross-border law enforcers and led to seven arrests.

Tam said his team was trying to establish if the two groups were linked.

Overall, two-thirds of the phone scams this year involved swindlers pretending to be a victim’s friend or relative to gain their trust and then asking for money. Scams involving fake officials came next with 42 cases, or 30 per cent, while there were four cases of fake kidnapping.

One-third of the victims to phone deceptions were aged 61 or above with 83 per cent of them being housewives or retirees.