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Crime in Hong Kong

Hong Kong shoppers lose HK$40 million to online crooks in 2018 – 146 per cent rise on last year

  • More than 1,900 buyers defrauded between January and November by swindlers as young as 15 years old
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 11:05pm

Internet fraudsters duped more than 1,900 Hong Kong shoppers out of nearly HK$40 million (US$5.12 million) between January and November, prompting police on Monday to warn buyers to be wary.

The latest figures from the force were revealed by Senior Superintendent Frank Law Yuet-wing of the city’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau after it wrapped up an 11-day crackdown on Friday which netted 64 people.

In the first 11 months of 2018 there were 1,920 reports of online shopping fraud, up 32 per cent on the 1,449 cases in the same period last year.

Losses reached HK$39.9 million, a 146 per cent rise on the HK$16.2 million seen between January and November 2017.

The figures were disclosed on the same day that Hong Kong security minister John Lee Ka-chiu said the overall number of scams reported in the city had also jumped. The figure hit 7,047 in the first 10 months of this year – an increase of almost 20 per cent on the same period in 2017.

On internet shopping scams, police handled 1,562 reports involving total losses of HK$17.8 million in the whole of 2017. In 2016 there were 1,188 cases, in which scammers bagged HK$12.9 million.

Law said the surge in 2018 was due to the growing popularity of online shopping.

“The force’s specialised working group will continue to monitor and analyse the trend of e-shopping fraud in an effort to identify the latest tactics, find out who is vulnerable, and study ways to stop would-be victims falling into the trap,” he said.

The bureau would coordinate its efforts and resources with other police departments, he added.

Officers from various districts mounted an 11-day citywide operation against online shopping scams, which ended on Friday. Four similar operations were also carried out earlier in the year.

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In the latest crackdown, two 15-year-old boys were among 64 people arrested in connection with 317 reports of online shopping fraud involving HK$1.65 million, according to police.

Bureau superintendent Lam Cheuk-ho said the two youngsters were accused of offering football-related gear worth a few hundred Hong Kong dollars on a social media platform.

“But the goods were not delivered after payment and the buyers lost contact with the boys,” Lam said.

Officers then tracked down the suspects and arrested them after checking their payment collection records.

Some 34 men and 30 women were arrested in last week’s crackdown. The scams involved goods ranging from electronics and concert tickets to mooncake vouchers and whisky. Some of the suspects were detained as the holders of bank accounts used to collect payments.

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Police said the goods had been sold at cheaper prices to attract buyers, but were never delivered.

Law said 44 of the suspects worked alone while the rest were with syndicates.

Further arrests were likely, he added.

Obtaining property by deception carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison in Hong Kong.

Romance scams recorded the biggest surge among all cases of deception between January and October. The number jumped twofold to 520 cases, Lee said. The victims were conned out of HK$410 million – a fourfold rise.

In the biggest single case, one victim lost HK$180 million to a con artist she had an online relationship with for four years. Lee said such scams would remain popular as successful tricksters could bag a lot of money in one go at a very low cost.

“We have to accept the fact that this crime is likely to be like drugs and robberies, in that it will be with us for a long time,” Lee said.

“What’s important is that the law enforcement agencies inform the public as soon as possible about these criminals’ new modes of operation so people can take precautions to protect themselves.”