Hong Kong police have rounded up 60 people in connection with 44 cases of deception involving financial losses of HK$75 million (US$9.5 million) during a two-week anti-fraud operation.
The suspects included five alleged members of a fraud syndicate who were accused of conspiring to obtain HK$6 million in a fraudulent bank loan under a government-backed pandemic relief scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Detectives from the Mong Kok district crime squad began investigating the gang after receiving an anonymous complaint early this year.
According to the force, the syndicate allegedly used a construction company to apply for a bank loan with forged documents in September under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme.
“We suspect the syndicate first collected personnel information through different channels and used the details to impersonate the company’s employees,” Inspector Wong Kin-hei of the Mong Kok district crime squad said on Monday.
He said the syndicate alleged the company suffered a sharp drop in its revenue and used falsified turnover records and exaggerated wages of its staff members to back up its claim.
Police said the gang then used the forged information to apply for a HK$6 million bank loan under the government relief scheme in September. The loan was granted in October.
“The gang transferred the money into different bank accounts and then they were unreachable. No repayments had been made,” Wong said.
After gathering evidence, police arrested three men and two women for conspiracy to defraud over the past two weeks.
Wong said one of them was believed to be the core member of the syndicate. They had been released on bail pending further investigation.
The five suspects were among 39 men and 21 women, who were arrested in an anti-fraud operation, code-named “Wildheat” between July 18 and 29.
Superintendent Ching Chi-yan, an assistant Mong Kok district commander, said the 60 suspects were accused of being involved in 44 cases of deception in which victims lost HK$75 million in total. The cases were reported to the Mong Kok police district.
He said the cases mainly involved online shopping fraud, internet investment scams, and online employment fraud.
Ching said most of the suspects were holders of bank accounts that were used to collect and launder scammed money and suspected proceeds of crime.
In addition to the fraud syndicate, police also broke up another gang accused of duping a 48-year-old woman out of HK$5.3 million in an investment fraud. The woman made a report to police in April and officers arrested four men and one woman in connection with the case during the two-week operation.
In the first half of this year, the number of deception cases increased by 41.7 per cent from 8,699 to 12,326.
In a statement to announce the city’s crime statistics on July 25, the force said over 70 per cent of the reports of deception were internet-related, adding that “online shopping fraud, employment fraud, investment fraud and telephone deception recorded the highest increases” ranging from 40 per cent to 400 per cent.
Police said the huge amount of money lost in cases of investment fraud and phone scams “remained a cause for concern”.
Statistics from the force showed more than HK$700 million was swindled in 1,271 reports of investment fraud and about HK$400 million was conned in 786 reports of telephone deception.