Girl, 14, among 82 students to lose HK$7.6 million in phone scams over 4 months in Hong Kong
- One university student from mainland China was duped out of HK$950,000
- Youngest victim was a 14-year-old girl cheated into parting with HK$27,000
More than 80 mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students, the youngest just 14 years old, have been conned out of HK$7.6 million (US$970,000) in phone scams by fraudsters impersonating officials from across the border in the past four months.
Law enforcement sources said the number of victims and the amount of money lost between July and October were well above the figures reported for scams in the first six months of the year.
A mainland student in her first year at university in Hong Kong was duped out of HK$950,000 in mid-September. The fraudsters intimidated her by accusing her of involvement in a criminal case.
“She was told to reveal her bank account information, including PIN, to the con artist pretending to be a mainland police officer,” a source said. “The money was then withdrawn from her bank account over four days.”
The youngest victim was a 14-year-old girl who was cheated out of HK$27,000 in September. She was convinced into transferring her money to a mainland bank account after being accused of breaking the law there.
According to police, six other students lost more than HK$300,000 each to fake mainland law officers in the same period.
A total of 82 students, including 48 from the mainland, were among 138 people scammed by fraudsters impersonating law enforcement agents over the phone between July and October.
Among the students, 17 per cent were working on a master’s degree or PhD, 60 per cent were bachelor’s degree students, while 7 per cent were in secondary school. The remaining 16 per cent were studying diploma or sub-degree programmes.
Before the beginning of the academic year, Hong Kong police held talks, put up posters and distributed fliers at universities to raise awareness and promote crime prevention.
But some of the recently swindled students were new arrivals from the mainland and said “they had not read news reports of such phone scams or police warnings”, another source said.
He said the recent surge had prompted the force to issue an alert on its website warning the public to be on the lookout for scammers. Police would also enhance publicity and awareness campaigns, especially at local universities.
A total of 59 Hongkongers were duped out of HK$4.7 million by similar scams in the first half of 2018.
“Between July and September, there were 10 to 20 students each month falling victim to phone scams involving bogus mainland officials, but the figure rose to 30 in October,” one source said.
In the first 10 months of this year, nearly 200 phone scam cases involving fake mainland officials were reported. Police handled 698 such reports in the whole of last year.
The city’s biggest telephone deception case saw a 52-year-old Yuen Long resident conned out of more than HK$58 million in 2016.
Many of those falling prey received pre-recorded calls from swindlers pretending to be the staff of courier firms, telecom companies or the Hong Kong Immigration Department, before the calls were transferred to fraudsters impersonating officers from mainland public security departments.
Victims are often accused of violating mainland laws. They are then assured by scammers posing as mainland police officers that their case will be investigated properly if they transfer funds to a designated bank account.
Some scams have involved fabricated kidnap scenarios in which victims were told relatives had been abducted and a ransom was needed for their release.