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Scams and swindles

English-speaking bogus consulate callers targeting victims in latest Hong Kong phone scam

Police issue warning following reports of con, including case of university researcher who transferred HK$18,000 to account in India

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 7:28pm

Telephone con artists have found a new way to dupe Hongkongers out of their money: by posing as English-speaking officials of consulates in the city, prompting police to issue a new scam alert for the public to stay vigilant.

The latest tactic follows one in which scammers posed as mainland security officials and used the mobile instant messaging platform WeChat to deceive their targets.

The force’s anti-deception coordination centre issued the warning following several reports of the latest scam.

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“Several incidents have come to the police’s attention where fraudulent telephone calls were made by swindlers who impersonated officials of consulates in Hong Kong,” the force said on its website.

“Swindlers, pretending to be English-speaking officials of consulates in Hong Kong, phoned victims and claimed that their immigration documents did not meet requirements. Then, the swindlers would demand the victims transfer money to overseas bank accounts to sort things out.”

However, a spokeswoman said on Monday that in the past 12 months police received just one report of the con. She did not elaborate on the details of other cases.

The latest case involved an Indian researcher, 27, who made a report to local police on January 19 after she was conned out of HK$18,000 (US$2,300).

The woman, who completed a postgraduate degree in the city and now works for a Hong Kong university, received a call on January 15 from a man claiming to be an employee at the Indian consulate. He told her that she had supplied incorrect information on her visa application.

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She was then instructed to transfer HK$18,000 to a bank account in India so that lawyers there could help her solve the problem.

Police said she realised it was a scam when she checked with the consulate in Hong Kong.

The consulate said on Facebook that several incidents had come to its attention where Indian citizens in Hong Kong had received fraudulent telephone calls for the purpose of extorting money, including some by people claiming to represent the consulate.

“These are prank or malicious calls and the [consulate] does not make such calls or seek such information on telephone,” it said.

The consulate advised those receiving such a call to contact the Hong Kong police’s anti-scam helpline on 18222 or the 999 emergency number.

“If callers claim to be agents of law enforcement authorities or other institutions and request your personal data and property for various reasons, contact the corresponding offices for verification of the identity of callers,” police said.

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“Do not transfer money to strangers’ bank accounts.”

Last year, police handled 991 reports of phone scams in which scammers bagged HK$229 million. In 2016, there were 1,138 phone scam cases involving losses of HK$221 million.

The anti-deception coordination centre, which was set up last July, halted payments of over HK$180 million to con men in more than 110 deception cases and prevented 49 deception cases from materialising.