Reported cybercrimes in Hong Kong rose more than sevenfold over a decade to 16,159 cases last year, with victims claiming record losses totalling more than HK$3 billion (US$385.3 million). Police said the surge was driven by a sharp rise in online love scams targeting women mainly, but many others lost money to fraudsters offering non-existent jobs, and some ended up paying in dating scams offering companionship and sex. Last year’s cases were seven times the 2,206 reports in 2011, with the sums involved rising from HK$148 million to HK$3.02 billion over the decade – the highest amount lost for this crime in this period. Money lost in romance scams jumps 140 per cent: Hong Kong police Police handled 1,659 reports of online romance scams last year, up from 905 cases the previous year. The amount victims lost also rose from HK$212 million in 2020 to HK$599 million last year. The force’s commercial crime bureau said that since 2020, these cases had evolved from mainly romantic scams to involve investment fraud as well. The number of cases shot up from 181 in 2020 to 642 last year, with victims reporting losses totalling more than HK$360 million. Posing as overseas professionals or businessmen, scammers went online to target victims they chatted up and charmed before luring them into fake investment deals. “The victims would be asked to download a fake investment app which was actually controlled by the con artists,” said Superintendent Lau Kai-pang from the commercial crime bureau. “The scammers would then ask their victims to transfer money to designated local bank accounts for their ‘investment’.” By controlling the app, the fraudsters tricked their victims into believing they were making profits, tempting them to invest even more. The moment victims felt trapped or tried to withdraw their profits, their attempts failed and their online “lovers” vanished too. Last October, a 65-year-old retired woman reported losing more than HK$17.8 million after being tricked by her younger “lover” into investing in bitcoin on a fake trading platform. It was the largest amount reported lost by a single victim last year. It began when the woman wanted to lease her flat and left her mobile number online. Someone claiming to be a 38-year-old man left a message saying he was interested in renting it. Once in touch, he turned on the charm and despite never meeting, sweet-talked her into believing they were in a relationship. Scammers launder HK$29 billion from victims through Hong Kong accounts He convinced her to transfer HK$17 million into eight local bank accounts to invest in bitcoin. She believed the investments were real as she tracked the app and it showed her balance rising to HK$44 million within a month. Lau said that when she tried to withdraw the money, her account on the app froze. She then received a message warning that she was involved in money-laundering activities and had to pay HK$8 million as a “security deposit”. She only realised she had been scammed when her lover disappeared. Lau said the victims in such romance and investment scams were mostly aged 21-50 and mainly women. 27 arrested as Hong Kong, Malaysia crack down on romance scam gang Last year also saw a 350 per cent rise in reports of online fraud involving jobs. Police said 1,063 people reported losing HK$85.3 million last year after falling for dubious job offers. There were 236 cases involving HK$10.5 million in 2020. The fraudsters typically posted job advertisements on a number of social media platforms, forums or in instant messages, using different pretexts to get jobseekers to pay various fees to guarantee that they would land the job. According to the force’s cybersecurity and technology crime bureau, the advertisements offered high pay or work-from-home arrangements without requiring advanced academic qualifications or experience. Once interested jobseekers fell for the scam and paid up, the fraudsters vanished. The number of men who lost money in “compensated dating” scams rose to 1,743 last year from 858 in 2020. Victims said they were tricked out of a total of HK$63 million last year. In these cases, scammers usually meet their victims on social media platforms, offer companionship or sex for money and set up a date. Before the appointment, however, the scammers ask for a “deposit” for their services, only to disappear without a trace once their victims pay up. ‘Naked-chat blackmail’ surges as Hongkongers spend more time online Police handled 549 reports of email scams involving HK$1.53 billion while people reported losing HK$71.5 million in 6,120 cases of e-shopping fraud. Another 1,159 Hongkongers told police they lost a total of HK$13.9 million last year after taking their clothes off for online naked chats with strangers, only to end up being blackmailed. The victims included doctors, lawyers and bankers. Aside from the online cases, other older forms of fraud continued to find victims in Hong Kong last year, including 1,140 reports of telephone fraud with losses totalling HK$810 million.