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Scams and swindles

Online scammers bet it pays to be a Hong Kong politician as more fake Facebook profiles uncovered impersonating high-profile names

Ex-commerce minister Greg So becomes latest victim of dodgy accounts as eight fakes discovered using his photo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 5:16pm

Hong Kong politicians are seemingly in high demand, at least among online scammers.

The city’s former commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung has joined ex-lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun by becoming the second high-profile figure in recent days to discover his likeness being used in multiple fake Facebook profiles in an attempt to con strangers.

So has shared eight screenshots of profiles illegitimately using his photo, and five remained active as of Thursday.

In one, So is said to be Wong Lo Collins, a Hong Kong engineering project manager working for Tri Gas and Oil Company in Venice, Italy.

But the US-based fuel firm would probably be shocked to find its expansion plans had progressed so quickly. The company’s website says its services are available in the Delmarva peninsula on the US east coast and elsewhere in the country’s mid-Atlantic region.

So has also been painted as a widower living in Los Angeles named Tony Ansar, as well as a Nicholas Cheng resident in London.

In a genuine Facebook post by the real So on September 16, the former minister shared five problematic profiles that were using his image. He said he “was feeling fed up”.

“These are all fake, not real at all,” So said.

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One Facebook user named May Su responded by revealing she had exchanged messages with the owner of one of the fake profiles.

“You have already publicly declared this is a fake account yet he still fears nothing and chatted with me and lied,” she said.

She urged So to take the matter seriously, and slammed the “scam group” for not respecting the law.

“I asked him: ‘Who are you?’ and he then stopped replying to me,” the woman said.

On Thursday So said he had received messages from friends on Facebook saying profiles featuring his photo had attempted to befriend them.

Normally he would notify Facebook about such profiles, So said, but an account he previously flagged using the social media giant’s reporting mechanism was still online.

“Takedown is very slow,” he said.

So did not know the motives for the fakes, but believed the problem was not confined to Hong Kong.

“Facebook said it is difficult to handle because if they block someone’s photo from being posted, anyone else taking a picture with that person will be unable to post it,” he said.

“But I wonder if a special arrangement, such as a user registration, could be put in place to ensure profile photos are authenticated prior to posting. I don’t know whether that is technologically or administratively feasible.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said profiles that impersonated people would be removed.

The Post has requested the company provide figures on the number of accounts taken down for impersonation.

Cybersecurity concerns were raised earlier this week after former Liberal Party chairman Tien discovered his face on seven Facebook profiles that did not belong to him.

The latest fake emerged on Tuesday and went by the name Allen Zhong. It made use of a selfie Tien had taken in April in Hokkaido, Japan.

The fact Zhong has more than 400 friends, most women, raised suspicions the account could be one of the plethora used for online romance scams plaguing Hong Kong in recent months. The profile identifies Zhong as “that Igala boy”, a reference to an ethnic group in Nigeria.

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But Tien said he had not immediately associated the account with scams, and only conceded he was “somewhat unhappy” at seeing his photo stolen.

Internet love scammers conned 338 Hongkongers out of a total of HK$168.8 million (US$21.54 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.