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Scams and swindles

Waitress, 21, arrested after two Hong Kong teens lose HK$110,000 in phone scams

Victims received calls from ‘courier company’ and were told to hand over cash and gold

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 9:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 11:45am

Two Hong Kong teenagers joined the ranks of the city’s many phone scam victims after being swindled out of a total of HK$110,000 (US$14,000) in cash and gold.

In two separate cases, a girl and a boy, both 15, received calls from a “courier company” on October 17 and November 21 respectively. They were subsequently transferred to someone claiming to be from the mainland police and saying that the victim had been involved in serious money-laundering cases.

The Form Four pupils were both instructed to hand money and jewellery to a woman in Mong Kok.

The girl collected about HK$50,000 in cash and the same value in gold and gave it to a woman at an appointed site in Mong Kok. The boy handed over HK$10,000 in cash to a woman in the same district.

The victims realised they might have been swindled after talking to their parents and called police on October 25 and November 26.

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Chief Inspector Wilson Tam Wai-shun, from the Kowloon East regional headquarters, said officers subsequently located a 21-year-old woman who was suspected of being connected to both cases. The Hong Kong identity card holder, who worked as a waitress, was arrested in a residential flat in Mong Kok on Wednesday morning.

“We believe she was a money collector. She picked up the money in person and immediately remitted it to bank accounts on the mainland,” Tam said, adding that the suspect was awarded commission for her alleged role.

Officers found some receipts for remittances and sales of gold during the operation.

Police are tracking the flow of the proceeds as well as the people behind the scam. They are also looking into whether the suspect is connected to other cases.

According to police figures, 803 phone scams were reported from January to October, a drop from 890 cases in the same period last year.

Scams that involved fabricated kidnap scenarios dropped from 249 to 65 year on year. Tam said the drastic drop was seen after joint operations between police and their counterparts across the border in May.

However, scams involving fake mainland officials saw a rise from 488 to 565 cases in the same period with about 70 per cent of these being phone scams. The total sum involved jumped from HK$180 million to HK$202 million.

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About 70 per cent of the victims of such scams were aged below 30, with 30 per cent of them in the city temporarily for studies, work or to visit their families.

Tam said a new kind of phone scam had emerged this month in which swindlers posed as staff from telecommunication firms and claimed that potential victims’ phone numbers had been suspended because they were part of criminal investigations on the mainland. They then asked for money to resolve the issues.

Police received reports of 10 such cases this month, involving total losses of HK$1.38 million.