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Scams and swindles

Beware of fake police officers online, Hongkongers warned, after Singaporeans lose hundreds of thousands in romance ruse

New con strategy comes to light after two women in Lion City contact Hong Kong’s Anti-Deception Coordination Centre, prompting police to issue a public alert

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 7:00pm

Be on the lookout for fake police officers online, the force has warned Hongkongers, after two love-struck Singaporean women were conned by impostors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a romance ruse.

A scam alert was issued in Hong Kong on Thursday night after the pair reported their losses to the city’s Anti-Deception Coordination Centre via its 24-hour helpline.

Swindlers had befriended the women on social media before coaxing them into a romantic attachment, the victims told the centre on Tuesday.

The women were eventually convinced into transferring money to Hong Kong bank accounts under several pretexts, according to a police source. They each lost hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars.

When the pair finally realised they had been duped, their swindlers sent other fraudsters posing as officers from the anti-deception centre, to try to keep the scam going and demand more money.

“The new scammers claimed Hong Kong police had frozen the money, and they requested the victims pay caution money and handling fees to get it back,” the source said.

But the women refused to hand over any more cash and instead called the anti-scam helpline on 18222.

“Officers of the Hong Kong Police Force or Anti-Deception Coordination Centre would never request a member of the public make any money transfer or pay any caution money,” the police force said on its website.

“Be cautious and protect yourself from scams when making friends on the internet.”

The police warning comes after a 66-year-old businesswoman was conned out of HK$180 million (US$23 million) over four years by an “engineer from Britain”, making her Hong Kong’s biggest victim of an online love scam.

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Her case came to light in August when the widow revealed her online relationship in a conversation with her family and realised she was being duped.

Internet love scammers conned 338 Hongkongers out of a total of HK$168.8 million in the first seven months of this year. The number was a significant rise on the 90 cases in the same period last year, which involved HK$41.7 million. More than 90 per cent of the victims were female.

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

The city’s 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, and she never met him in person.

Scammers typically pose as white male entrepreneurs, professionals or military veterans, and befriend potential victims through internet platforms.

After establishing trust, they concoct reasons to ask their victims to send money to designated bank accounts. Police say the requests almost always involve needing money urgently to solve a problem overseas.

In the 13 months since the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre began operating last July, it has dealt with more than 1,300 requests to freeze money. Some HK$4 billion has been defrauded in internet and telephone scams during that time.