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Scams and swindles

Retired Hongkonger, 73, loses US$260,000 – his entire savings – to online scammer posing as female American soldier

After six months of correspondence, married local resident realised he had been cheated

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 6:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 6:21am

A 73-year-old Hongkonger has become the city’s biggest male loser of an online romance scam this year, after a con artist posing as a female US military officer duped him out of US$260,000 (HK$2 million).

The retiree living with his wife in Sai Ying Pun realised he had been cheated after he lost all his savings and contact ceased with his online “lover”, according to law enforcement sources.

One source said the elderly man was among fewer than 10 male victims in the city duped in online romance frauds this year.

“He is the biggest male victim as the other men lost an average of HK$300,000 each,” he noted.

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In the first six months of this year, online romance scammers cheated 272 people out of HK$137 million, compared with 78 cases involving HK$36.4 million over the same period last year.

In the latest case, the fraudster posing as a US female military officer based overseas befriended the retiree through Facebook last November, according to police.

The source said after establishing a relationship, the victim was told that his lover had moved US$1 million in assets – mainly jewellery and precious metals – into Hong Kong because she wanted to settle in the city.

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“In December, the victim was asked to help pay an administrative fee because the assets were seized by customs over a declaration problem,” the source explained, adding that the scammer invented other excuses to cheat the victim during their six-month online relationship.

Police said the victim was duped into transferring a total of US$260,000 into four bank accounts in Hong Kong and overseas in five transactions between December last year and May.

Another source said the man had lost contact with the scammer after depleting his savings and being unable to pay more money. He called police on July 2.

Hong Kong men seek sex online, get duped out of HK$10 million in six months

The source said initial investigations showed all the money had been transferred out of the four bank accounts days after the deposits were made.

According to the sources, men comprise three to five per cent of the victims of online romance frauds in Hong Kong.

In 2017, police handled 235 cases of online romance fraud involving losses of HK$108 million. In 2016, there were 114 such reports in which swindlers bagged HK$95 million, and in 2015, police handled 52 reports involving losses of HK$32.4 million.

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The worst case was of a 56-year-old woman who lost HK$26.4 million in 18 months. The money was transferred to more than 10 bank accounts in the city, Malaysia and other countries in more than 300 transactions. The anti-fraud squad managed to recover just HK$2 million of the total from local bank accounts. after the victim called police in February.

The longest-running scam involved a finance manager who lost HK$14 million to a con artist posing as a British film director. Their online relationship lasted eight years, but the victim never met the scammer in person. She sought help from police in April.

Fraudsters typically pose as expat professionals, entrepreneurs or soldiers and befriend potential victims online. After establishing trust, the swindlers concoct reasons to ask victims to send money to designated bank accounts. Police say the requests almost always involve needing money urgently to solve a problem overseas.