‘French businessman’ cons Hong Kong woman out of HK$730,000 in city’s latest online love scam
- Fraudster told victim his business involved trading vehicle parts in Africa, and persuaded her to make more than 50 transactions to accounts on the continent
- Woman became so upset on discovering the scam she was sent to hospital
A con artist posing as a French businessman has swindled a Hong Kong woman out of HK$730,000 (US$93,200) during a five-month online romantic relationship in which she sent the money to West Africa in more than 50 transactions.
The 34-year-old clerical worker from Ma On Shan became so upset upon discovering the scam that she had to be sent to hospital on Tuesday.
She only realised she had been conned after revealing the relationship to her parents.
The fraudster befriended the woman on an online dating website in June and the pair developed a romantic relationship, according to a law enforcement source.
The man reportedly said his business involved trading vehicle parts in Africa.
“The scammer claimed he had financial difficulties and needed money urgently,” the source said. “He also invented other excuses to repeatedly ask the victim for money.”
The funds were transferred to six different bank accounts.
The source said the pair never met face to face or talked via video call.
“They only made contact on WhatsApp,” he said.
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Police were called to the woman’s home at about 3pm on Tuesday after she told her parents of her financial losses. The victim became so emotional that she had to be admitted to Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po.
Officers from the Tai Po criminal investigation unit are now handling the case.
Online love scammers often pose as white men from Western countries and use fake profile photos, police say.
Officers urged anyone suspicious about an online contact to cross-check his or her photo with Google or elsewhere on the internet to find a matching image. However, a video call was the best way to verify identity, the source said.
“If in doubt, please call the force’s 24-hour anti-scam helpline on 18222,” the source added.
Last month an online romance scam ring based in Kuala Lumpur was broken up and 52 suspects were arrested in a joint operation between Hong Kong, Malaysian and Singaporean authorities.
Police said the syndicate had duped 147 people, including 101 Hongkongers, out of a total of HK$110 million over the past three years.
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According to statistics from Hong Kong police, 463 city residents were conned out of HK$398 million by online love scammers in the first nine months of this year. The number was a significant increase on the 142 victims in the same period last year, when HK$78.1 million went awry.
The total lost to scams in 2017 was HK$109 million, with 235 people falling victim. In 2016, there were 114 reports involving a total of HK$95 million, and in 2015, there were 52 reports, with swindlers bagging a total of HK$32.4 million.
A fraudster behind the city’s biggest individual romance scam to date is believed to still be at large. The victim, a 66-year-old businesswoman, was cheated out of HK$180 million over four years by an “engineer from Britain”.
Hong Kong’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 the victim never met him in person.