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Scams and swindles

Almost 250 people in Hong Kong lose HK$1.9 million in WhatsApp scam

Biggest case involved woman who lost HK$119,000 in 24 hours after being conned into buying more than 50 points cards for online games

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 8:39pm

A woman who lost HK$119,000 in 24 hours was among almost 250 people duped out of about HK$1.9 million (US$242,000) in a WhatsApp scam in Hong Kong this year, police said on Wednesday.

The woman was conned into buying more than 50 points cards for online games.

Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed of the Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau urged WhatsApp users to set up a two-step verification process on their accounts.

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Following the set-up, WhatsApp users must enter a personal identification number as well as the verification code to reset their accounts, the force said.

The scam first came to the attention of police in November last year when fewer than 10 cases were reported. The number soared to about 30 in December.

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The latest figures showed there were 245 cases in the first three months of this year, with losses totalling about HK$1.9 million.

According to police, swindlers pretended to be friends of WhatsApp users and invented different excuses to lure them into revealing their account verification codes. The con men then accessed the accounts with the codes and, posing as the users, sent text messages to deceive the account holders’ contacts.

All the scam victims were asked to buy MyCard point cards for online games
Swalikh Mohamed, police superintendent

Mohammed said genuine account holders were unable to use WhatsApp at least 12 hours after their accounts were hijacked.

“All the scam victims were asked to buy MyCard points cards for online games,” he said. 

MyCard is a digital payment platform. Users can buy credit to spend on the platform from convenience stores across the city, Mohammed said. After getting passwords for the cards, scammers sold them online.

Police said the age range of the victims was between 17 and 72 and losses went from a few hundred dollars to thousands. No arrests had been made.

The Post reported in February that officers believed fraudsters from Taiwan were behind the scam because the points cards they requested were used for the Taiwanese versions of online games.

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Police advised residents to safeguard their personal data and verify the identity of those who contact them. If in doubt, people should call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 18222.

In the first three months of this year, there were 270 reports of deception through instant messaging platforms, accounting for HK$2.6 million in losses. That exceeds the figure for the whole of last year, when there were 266 cases, in which scammers bagged HK$2.1 million.