Hong Kong police

Cybercrimes and scams will be two big challenges for Hong Kong police, outgoing veteran says

Assistant Commissioner Chung Siu-yeung looks back on his 31-year service with the force

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 11:53am

Cybercrimes and deception would be major challenges faced by Hong Kong’s police in the next decade, an outgoing veteran crime buster has said amid increasing cases of both types of offences.

Over the past decade, reports of technology crimes have jumped more than eightfold while occurrences of deception climbed 50 per cent. According to authorities, such cases were hard to detect and solve.

Last week, Assistant Commissioner Chung Siu-yeung, who oversees crime investigations, took stock of the city’s crime trends over the past three decades ahead of his retirement next week after 31 years of service.

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He said the battlefield for police had widened as more culprits moved from entity crimes, such as robbery and burglary, to the virtual world in line with technological development.

Since the force started recording technology crime figures in 2005, reported cases skyrocketed from 653 to 5,939 within 11 years, with annual financial losses reaching HK$2.3 billion last year.

Meanwhile cheating cases – including phone scams, street swindles, online romance scams and email scams – rose from 4,758 in 2006 to 7,260 in 2016, compared with 1,489 cases in 1986 and 3,177 in 1996.

“When it comes to cybercrimes, we not only monitor local perpetrators but culprits from all over the world,” said Chung, who once served in the commercial crime bureau, eventually becoming its head.

“Anyone with a computer and good skills can hack devices in Hong Kong. Prevention is very important, otherwise our city will be vulnerable to all online criminals globally. This is a very big challenge.”

Deception cases are particularly difficult to crack as success rates fell below 20 per cent in the past five years. Only 1,369 out of 7,260 cases were solved in 2016.

The success rate for cases in the first 10 months of this year dropped to 13.2 per cent. “Criminals are not in Hong Kong while the money is usually transferred out of the city already,” Chung said.

Since 2012, safeguarding against cyber threats and combating technology crime have been operational priorities of police.

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Chung said the force would step up publicity, enhance cooperation with other law enforcers in handling and investigating such crimes and sharpen officers’ skills in detection.

A recent cybersecurity incident saw hackers last month locking the personal data of 200,000 customers of local travel agency WWPKG Holdings, demanding a seven-figure bitcoin ransom.

The firm reported the case to police and officers from the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau unlocked the information three days later.

Going down memory lane, Chung emotionally recalled his investigation of the 1996 Garley Building fire – one of the most fatal fire disasters in Hong Kong’s history – which killed 41 people.

“We had to map out the account of each victim during the fire as we needed to tell the Coroner’s Court how they died. I listened to the audio records ... because some of the deceased victims were still calling 999 ... It is very saddening.”

Two years later, Chung was awarded a commendation by the police commissioner for his efforts in the case.

He said crime investigation gave him great satisfaction. “When criminals are finally captured, I feel that I have fulfilled the will of the deceased victim. You can feel that the families are relieved too.”