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Scams and swindles

Fake kidnappings help Hong Kong phone scammers swindle HK$190 million, and young people often the victims

Rampant problem of residents being swindled out of cash over the phone shows no sign of abating

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 11:15pm

Con artists have stepped up their tactics in Hong Kong by combining fake kidnappings with their favoured strategy of impersonating government officials in so-called “double scams”, according to police.

The combination of methods helped phone scammers pocket HK$190 million in the first eight months of this year, mostly from young victims.

The rampant problem of residents being swindled out of cash over the phone shows no sign of abating, with the number of cases in the first eight months jumping 20 per cent year on year, police disclosed on Saturday.

A total of 684 phone scam cases were reported in the period, involving losses of about HK$190 million. The largest loss in a single case amounted to HK$30 million, according to police figures.

On Saturday Hong Kong police kicked off a bus parade to raise awareness of telephone deception, as residents continued to fall prey to fraudsters.

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The majority of the cases – 490 of them – were scammers posing as government officials who accused their victims of breaking the law. They usually demand large amounts of money to settle the case.

Such cases more than doubled compared to the number in the same period last year.

Tang Hoi-tung, senior inspector of the Kowloon East regional crime unit, said there were three cases of “double scams” in July that involved con artists combining two different scamming methods to swindle both the initial victims and then their family members in one go.

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“After they posed as government officials and cheated the victim out of their money, they asked for the contact numbers of their family members and did not allow the victims to get in touch with them. They then called the family and told them the victim had been kidnapped, and demanded a ransom,” Tang said.

Tang added that phone deception tactics had become more complex and most victims did not realise they had been duped until it was too late.

Police have stepped up efforts to crack down on phone deception and have launched campaigns to raise awareness on university campuses and in secondary schools by hosting seminars.

Some 80 per cent of the cases this year involved victims under 30 years old.

In the whole of last year, police handled 656 phone scam cases involving HK$203 million in losses. In 2015, there were 1,423 cases involving HK$292 million.

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Meanwhile, police said a new anti-scamming unit had handled 6,000 calls since it was set up in July.

The Anti-Deception Coordination Centre, set up under the Commercial Crime Bureau, pools police resources to handle scam cases and runs a 24-hour inquiry hotline which can be reached at 18222.

Police said 200 of the 6,000 calls were requests for help to intervene in phone deception cases, in which officers helped thwart payments totalling HK$77 million.