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Scams and swindles

Con artists targeting more people with mental disabilities, Hong Kong lawmaker claims

Alice Mak, from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, urged authorities to do more to protect vulnerable groups from falling victim to scams

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 8:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 11:01pm

More people with mental disabilities have fallen victim to bogus marriage, exclusive fitness club and loan scams over the past three years, according to a Hong Kong lawmaker who said she has been approached by 10 families asking for help in such cases.

Mother of one victim, Miss Chan, met the press with Alice Mak Mei-kuen, from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, and told the story of her 25-year-old daughter, who was lured into signing up for HK$100,000 (US$12,800) in loans and a cross-border bogus marriage last year.

Chan revealed that her daughter was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and a mild intellectual disability in primary school. She said she came across a job advertisement on social media last year, claiming that one could receive up to HK$200,000 (US$25,500) a day after completing three tasks.

Feeling interested, her daughter left a message and was quickly approached by a man from mainland China on WhatsApp. He kept sending sweet messages, such as “love you” and “I want to take you to Ocean Park”, before taking the victim to two finance companies and signing up for a total of HK$100,000 in loans under her name, according to Chan.

“He told her that she did not need to pay off the debt. My daughter believed it as she could not analyse the situation. The scammer coaxed her with sugar-coated words and then deceived her to [go to] a law firm to sign some marriage documents,” Chan claimed, adding that she reported the incident to police last year.

“We are very worried and scared, because the finance company is still after us now for money. The bogus marriage also affects her marriage status.”

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Mr Lee, the elder brother of another victim, told a similar story in the press conference after his intellectual disabled younger brother in his 20s was lured to pay HK$60,000 to sign up to a fitness club for five years this April.

Lee claimed his brother first passed by the fitness centre and was lured to pay HK$1,000 without knowing the purpose of the fee. A female staff member later approached him on WhatsApp, saying “miss you” and asked him to bring his ATM card and ID card to the centre. Upon arrival, the staff member charged him HK$40,000 with an Electronic Payment Services (EPS) machine.

“My brother did not even know EPS is an electronic payment tool. He was then taken to an ATM to withdraw another HK$20,000,” Lee said.

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“He became so emotional as all his money was [stolen]. He screamed, threw a chair and rushed to the door. We had to take him to the emergency room for a psychiatrist.”

Lee reported the incident to customs, the police and the Consumer Council.

Mak said she has been receiving more assistance requests in recent years, compared to only one case received in 2015.

“Scammers pretended they care about the victims and misled them [into thinking] that they had made new friends. The authorities should continue its support to intellectually disabled people and step up regulations against loaning activities to this disadvantaged group,” Mak said.

Deception cases recorded by Hong Kong police jumped by 3.1 per cent to 3,671 in the first half of this year. There were 7,091 deception cases in 2017, down by 2.3 per cent from 2016.