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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hong Kong family arrested for allegedly running love scams that made HK$21 million

Hong Kong family arrested for allegedly running love scams that made HK$21 million

Two brothers and their mother allegedly bought two luxury cars – a Porsche and a seven-seater vehicle – with suspected crime proceeds.

A Hong Kong family of three, accused of running a fraud syndicate from a duplex with a private swimming pool and swindling HK$21 million (US$2.6 million) from 155 people through online romance scams, were among 15 suspects arrested in raids this week, police revealed on Wednesday.

The case came to light as the latest figures showed 324 Hongkongers had fallen victim to internet love scams between January and March this year, involving financial losses of HK$186.6 million. Among them, the biggest loser was conned out of HK$27.4 million.

The family, two brothers and their mother, spent as much as HK$70,000 a month to rent a 3,000 sq ft duplex in a private housing estate in Sha Tin as an operations base as well as their residence, according to a source familiar with the case.

The source said they allegedly bought two luxury cars – a Porsche and a seven-seater vehicle – with suspected crime proceeds, and hired a chauffeur to drive them around.

Police said the younger brother, 43, was the alleged ringleader. He worked with his elder brother to contact and swindle potential targets and control bank accounts used to collect and launder scammed money.

Their mother was accused of being responsible for handling illegal funds, and the investigation also found the girlfriends of the two brothers were also involved, according to the force.

Acting superintendent Tai Tze-bun of the force’s cyber security and technology crime bureau.

As online criminals usually operate outside Hong Kong, acting superintendent Tai Tze-bun of the force’s cyber security and technology crime bureau said in this case, they broke up a local fraud syndicate behind internet love scams.

He said the syndicate duped 154 men and a woman out of more than HK$21 million between January 2022 and April this year. Victims lost between HK$1,500 and HK$1 million.

According to the force, members of the syndicate impersonated people from other countries and then befriended potential targets through social media and dating apps.

After developing a romantic relationship with the victims, the bogus lovers invented different excuses for needing money. Police said the scammers never met those they conned.

“They told their victims they were in financial difficulty, suffered illness or were going to claim a large inheritance or made up different excuses to scam the victims,” Chief Inspector Cheng Chak-yan of the bureau said.

He added the investigation showed illegal funds had been used to buy digital coins in an apparent effort to launder the dirty money.

After gathering evidence, police raided the operational centre in Sha Tin and other locations in Cheung Sha Wan and Lai Chi Kok on Tuesday and Wednesday.

During the arrest operation, code-named “Doublepole”, police arrested 10 men and five women, including the family of three and the brothers’ girlfriends.

They also seized about HK$300,000, two luxury watches, three laptops and 23 mobile phones and impounded two cars.

The suspects, aged between 22 and 70, were detained for conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were still being held for questioning.

Police said the investigation was still under way, and further arrests were possible.

Tai warned that the internet was not an anarchic realm and most current laws were also applicable online.

The amount lost through online romance scams rose by 16 per cent to HK$697 million last year from HK$599 million in 2021, but the number of cases dipped 7 per cent to 1,533.


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