Hong Kong courts

Elderly American woman loses HK$1.5 million after fake ‘Supreme Court attorney’ gets her to transfer cash to Hong Kong account over non-existent drug find

In court writ, retiree says she received phone from fake government officials and a court lawyer and was told to move money to Hong Kong to protect assets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 10:59pm

Phone scammers have plagued Hong Kong in recent years – but now Americans appear to be falling into their trap as well.

An elderly woman in California said she was swindled out of more than HK$1.5 million and is suing a local company in the Hong Kong court in a bid to get her money back.

Retiree Dianne Mesa, 75, said she received phone calls earlier this year from people posing as government officials and a court lawyer, warning she was in trouble.

As a result, she transferred US$195,000 – or HK$1,527,327 – to a Hang Seng Bank account in Hong Kong, registered under the name Langmin Trade Co, to avoid non-existent criminal allegations, a High Court writ said.

Mesa is taking the company, in San Po Kong, to court to retrieve the sum she lost, according to the court document made available on Thursday.

The company may or may not know about the scam, but it was “at least the direct recipient” of the fraudulent proceeds, the document said.

“The said enrichment of the [company] is unjust and unconscionable, as the [company] is not entitled to keep the said sum of US$195,000,” it added.

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The alleged scam bears a resemblance to a number of cases Hong Kong has seen in recent years.

Although the number of such scams is falling, there were still 165 victims between January and June, down 62 per cent on the same period last year, with HK$10.55 million being swindled.

Call recipients are often told they or a family member are in trouble with the law, so they need to pay a settlement. Some are sweet-talked by scammers pretending to have fallen in love with them.

Mesa received several phone calls on April 19 this year from two people, who identified themselves as Paul Brown and Rajive Mathur, the writ said. The callers told Mesa, who lives in the wealthy Californian city of Arcadia, that they represented the social security administration.

They then told Mesa that a car rented under her name was found bloodied and containing drugs 1,700km away in Southern Texas, the writ said.

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A shocked Mesa told them she knew nothing about the car. They then pretended to believe her, but warned her not to tell anyone or the US government would confiscate her assets.

They put her in touch with a “Supreme Court attorney” named Brett Ligon.

“Brett Ligon turned out to be an accomplice to the impostors,” the writ said, adding Ligon further mentioned she had suspicious assets derived from criminal proceeds.

To protect her assets, Mesa was instructed to move her money to various bank accounts in the US. Ligon eventually asked her to transfer the money to the Hang Seng Bank account in question.

It was not until another two months that local police told her she had fallen victim to a fraud.

An investigation by the Post found Langmin Trade Co is owned by a Suo Yuanshui, who claims to live in Ningxia, an autonomous region of northwest China.

An attempt to reach the firm, which was incorporated in December last year, was unsuccessful.