Fake news of war between North Korea and US part of gold scam, Hong Kong police say
Losses in city totalled HK$16.43 million in first 11 months of last year
Swindlers behind London gold scams are using international news such as North Korea-United States relations in a ruse to lure their prey into fraudulent bullion investment, prompting Hong Kong police to warn the public.
Fraudsters told their targeted individuals they had insider information indicating a war would soon break out between the nations and a surge in gold price was expected, police said.
Photographs of battleships were sent via mobile phone to lead them to believe that warships had been deployed.
“They claim prices such as for bitcoin will continue to rise and not go down,” chief inspector Jackie Tam Wing-sze of the force’s commercial crime bureau said.
Tam said swindlers invented this excuse to persuade people to pay money to trade gold on the London market via local bullion investment firms, claiming they could yield high returns over a short period of time and face low risk.
In the first 11 months of last year, police arrested 21 Hongkongers in connection with London gold scams. The suspects included directors and brokers of bullion investment companies in Hong Kong. Their alleged offences included fraud, conspiracy to defraud, and theft.
Victims are usually persuaded to open margin accounts with such companies and sign documents to authorise brokers to trade on their behalf.
Police said victims suffered losses in bullion investments and had to pay hefty commissions and overnight interest to run margin accounts.
Senior inspector Victor Poon Ngor-him of the commercial crime bureau said brokers could receive between US$30 and US$50 in commission per transaction.
He said investigations showed up to 80 investment transactions were carried out on behalf of a single victim in one day.
“Victims were later notified they suffered a loss and their margin accounts were locked because of insufficient money, and they were persuaded to invest more money.”
Poon said victims eventually suffered a total loss due to fraudulent investments and deducted commission. They then reported what had happened to police.
Last September, a middle-aged cleaning lady contacted police, saying she had been duped out of HK$1.3 million by con artists engaging in the ruse. She was last year’s biggest loser in London gold scams.
Figures showed there were 27 victims of London gold scams, with the losses totalling HK$16.43 million in the first 11 months last year. That figure compared with 23 for the whole of 2016, when victims lost HK$17.25 million.
Seventeen victims lost HK$24.2 million in 2015, and there were 39 victims who were duped out of HK$37.09 million in 2014.
Tam said the victims included merchants, housewives and people from a variety of occupations.
Fraudsters usually approached victims via cold calls on the pretext of conducting research interviews or questionnaires. This enabled them to obtain personal information such as their mobile telephone numbers.
The chief inspector also warned that good-looking and sweet-talking con artists were deployed to contact and persuade people to invest.
Tam said fraudsters pretending to be warm-hearted operated over a period of months and gained the trust of the elderly by regularly visiting them at their home and having dim sum with them on weekends.
“[Swindlers] claimed they could face dismissal or their promotion would be affected if they failed to meet a quota,” she added. “They sought elderly targets to help open investment accounts.”
Poon warned that swindlers modified their approaches frequently and used different names for bullion products to cover their tracks and lure victims into fraudulent investments.
Police said bullion investment involved high-risk margin accounts and complicated investment products. They urged investors to discuss such matters with their families and seek advice from professionals.
“Understand all the terms and details of any agreements, authorisation documents or contracts before signing them,” Tam said.
She added that anyone encountering suspicious activity should contact the force’s anti-deception coordination centre and call its 24-hour anti-scam helpline on 18222.