Hong Kong men swindled out of nearly US$2.56 million in honeypot scams this year
- Men from all social backgrounds were duped by a mainland China-based fraud syndicate posing as female students working part-time as prostitutes
- The ‘compensated dating’ scam has become increasingly common in recent years and many victims are too embarrassed to report it to police
More than 600 Hong Kong men, including bankers and students, seeking sex services via social media were duped out of nearly HK$20 million (US$2.56 million) in the first 10 months of this year by swindlers who usually impersonated university students working as part-time sex workers in the city.
The Post has learned that a fraud syndicate based in mainland China and probably run by a gang of male con artists was behind most of this year’s “compensated dating” cases that represent a 60 per cent year-on-year rise.
Compensated dating is a disguised form of prostitution in which one person pays another for companionship and often sex.
One law enforcement source said the victims included bankers, students and blue-collar workers such as chefs and most of them were in 30s and 40s.
Between January and October this year, Hong Kong police handled 615 reports of compensated dating scams involving total losses of HK$19.8 million. There were 384 cases in which scammers bagged HK$12.3 million in the same period last year.
In a reply to the Post, the force said that in the worst case over the past two years, one victim lost HK$1.38 million. He was a 26-year-old man who reported it to police on June 22.
Police investigators noticed that this year, the scammers demanded the payments in virtual currencies such as bitcoin or online game token cards instead of money transfers to bank accounts.
“They have done this to escape our detection,” said the source who admitted that it was difficult to trace swindled money that was paid in bitcoin or online game token cards.
The upsurge prompted the force to post a video on its website to warn the public to be wary of the swindle.
“The scammers pretend to offer compensated dating and in the end defraud victims of money,”
Clinical psychologist Michael Fung Ho-kin of the force’s psychological services group said on the website.
“They are also good at taking advantage of the victims to gain their trust and make them pay.”
“To be honest, I do compensated dating as a part-time job” and “Will you look down on me?” are what swindlers usually tell their targets.
Officers believe embarrassment prevents some victims from contacting police.
“It is difficult for these men to come forward and report the case. They have to overcome a big psychological barrier,” Fung said.
“Therefore, when we train our frontline criminal investigators, we explain to them the difficulties and psychological conditions of these victims.”
The fraudsters behind the scam usually prey on targets via dating websites and apps and sex websites and then use mobile instant messaging platforms – mainly WeChat – to contact the victims.
According to police, they searched for photos of young and attractive women on the internet and used the photos to make fake profiles on dating websites and instant messaging platforms to befriend targets.
Another source said con artists often claimed to be students from mainland China and Taiwan, working as part-time compensated dating girls.
“To win sympathy, some even claimed they were forced to work as compensated dating girls to pay their family’s debts,” the source said.
He said the fraudsters coaxed some targets into revealing personal information, which they could then use to blackmail them.
“Unlike internet love scams that can go on for many years, the [compensated dating] scam lasts just a few days,” he said.
Police said victims were instructed to pay in advance before any meeting was arranged. After making the payment, victims realised it was a scam as no one showed up to meet them and they lost contact with the supposed girls.
Compensated dating scams surfaced in Hong Kong several years ago. Reports of such crimes dropped after Hong Kong and mainland Chinese police broke up a syndicate in a joint operation last year.
A police spokesman said officers from the force’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau would continue to carry out various strategies to fight such illegal activities.
Police reminded the public to be “cautious when making new friends on social media” and “remain vigilant when you receive any request of money for assistance”.