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Scams and swindles

Here are the two key reasons people keep falling for phone scams in Hong Kong

Officers say mainland Chinese students or newcomers to city are most at risk, after 716 phone scams reported in first nine months of year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 8:53am

False calls about personal documents or cross-border parcels are the main reasons so many students or newcomers from mainland China keep being tricked by phone scammers posing as government officials in Hong Kong, police have said.

The force received 716 phone scam reports in the first nine months of this year, with 82 per cent of victims being scammed successfully. The total monetary loss went up by 28 per cent to nearly HK$200 million in this time. Around 80 per cent of the money went to bogus “government officials”.

According to Superintendent Andy Chan Tin-chu, who is also the head of the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre, set up three months ago, 426 cases involved successful scams by fake law enforcers.

Why are so many young people falling for phone scams?

More than one-third of the victims were mainland Chinese university students in Hong Kong. Another 50 were new immigrants and 116 toured or visited relatives in the city, with most them also coming from mainland China.

Just in the week of October 9-15, nine mainland Chinese university students in the city fell prey to fake law enforcers, with each of the victims being swindled out of HK$6,000-HK$80,000 to “settle the criminal case they [were] allegedly involved [in]”.

Chan said scammers played sophisticated psychological tricks to fool victims and make huge numbers of cold calls, in which they pose as immigration officers or told victims about unclaimed documents or parcels.

“Only two types of people would respond – either he or she is smart enough and wants to find out about the games played by the con men,” Chan said. “Or a mainlander who won’t even think about a possible phone scam, but that he or she was having trouble with the documents held by authorities … The documents are important to them because they are staying in Hong Kong.”

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Chan said newcomers were prone to believing lies related to “problematic” parcels as they often shopped using cross-border online platforms.

“It is all about psychology. Locals would not fall prey because they knew they did not have any documents being processed by the immigration authority or they did not shop on mainland Chinese websites,” Chan said.

The force has stepped up publicity in a branch of Beijing’s liaison office in Sheung Wan’s Shun Tak Centre – a place where mainland Chinese students must go to process their documents.

Meanwhile, the new anti-scam unit has handled more than 7,000 calls in the past three months. 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 at 18222.

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Police said 200 of the calls were requests for help to intervene in phone deception cases, and officers helped thwart payments totalling HK$78 million.

The biggest case involved about HK$31 million. In May, a 52-year-old chief financial officer of a multinational company received a call from a culprit who posed as the company’s CEO. She was told to transfer US$3.98 million (HK$31 million) to a mainland Chinese bank account. The woman realised she was scammed when she spoke to the real CEO. Police froze around HK$20 million in the culprit’s bank account.

The youngest victim was a 14-year-old local secondary school pupil who lost HK$7,576 to con men pretending to be law enforcers from Shanghai who accused her of being involved in unlaw activity in China.