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Police have appealed to the public to stay alert, given a string of recent arrests related to crypto­currency scams. Photo: Warton Li

Hong Kong police arrest man after cryptocurrency trader conned into making bogus HK$1.5 million transfer

  • Trader met a man posing as a buyer in Tsim Sha Tsui and ended up locked in a room after transferring digital money in a bogus transaction
  • Office set up for the meeting was fake, with empty computer cases

Hong Kong police have arrested a 24-year-old man about a week after a cryptocurrency trader was coaxed into transferring HK$1.5 million (US$191,085) in digital money in a bogus transaction in a Tsim Sha Tsui shop.

According to the force, the suspect was detained on suspicion of theft – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

During the arrest on Tuesday, officers seized a mobile phone, necklaces and clothes the man was allegedly wearing at the time of the bogus transaction, which took place in a Nathan Road shop in Tsim Sha Tsui on May 4.

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That day, the 30-year-old cryptocurrency trader and her two colleagues met a man posing as a buyer to make a transaction inside the meeting room of the shop at around 1pm.

Detectives are investigating whether the suspect set up the bogus office to cheat the victim.

“As instructed, the victim transferred HK$1.5 million in digital money into a designated e-wallet,” said Inspector Tong Sin-tung of the Yau Tsim criminal investigation unit on Wednesday.“The [buyer] claimed he needed to go to the staff room to get money and exited [the meeting room].”

Instead, the man left the shop via the rear exit.

Moments later, the victim and her colleagues realised they had been locked in the room and called police.

Officers seized a mobile phone, necklaces and clothes the man was allegedly wearing at the time of the bogus transaction during the arrest on Tuesday. Photo: Facebook

The inspector said security camera footage led officers to identify and track down the suspect, who was picked up in Sham Shui Po at about 11am on Tuesday.Police said no money was recovered in the case.

Tong said investigation showed the shop was rented by a shell company for HK$4,000 a month ago.

“Inside the shop, the banknote counter was not connected to electricity and what looked like computers were just empty cases,” she said.

She said officers were looking into whether the suspect had accomplices, adding that an investigation was under way and further arrests were possible.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the man was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

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Given a string of recent arrests related to crypto­currency scams, Tong appealed to the public to stay alert while meeting strangers to conduct transactions, and urged cryptocurrency traders to use credible platforms.

According to the force, cryptocurrency crimes tend to fall into three categories: using digital currencies to launder money, robbing buyers or sellers during face-to-face transactions or investment scams, in which purported sellers disappear after taking the victim’s money.

In the biggest known cryptocurrency scam in Hong Kong so far, a 30-year-old man was conned out of HK$124 million in June last year. He was approached by two men and a woman, all in their 30s, who posed as investment consultants and promised that if he put his money in a cryptocurrency called Filecoin, he would reap huge returns.

The victim handed over the money in two instalments in February and April last year, but he tried to withdraw the amount in June after seeing Filecoin plunge from US$168 to US$73. However, he was unable to contact the consultants and ultimately reported the case to the force.