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Monday, Jul 22, 2024

Hong Kong police warn of surge in investment scams offering mainland Chinese stocks

Hong Kong police warn of surge in investment scams offering mainland Chinese stocks

Police say 79 such scams recorded during first four months of 2023, up from single case logged during same period last year.

Hong Kong police have warned of a growing number of investment scams offering mainland Chinese stocks involving a fake app and fund transfer requests, with one victim losing HK$4.5 million (US$575,110) in the largest case recorded this year.

According to the force, 79 such scams were recorded during the first four months of 2023, amounting to losses of HK$71.7 million, up from a single case involving HK$60,000 logged over the same period last year.

The single biggest reported loss so far this year involved a 60-year-old man who was duped out of HK$4.5 million and unable to retrieve the funds from the fake investment platform. The case was reported in March and police are investigating.

“The method used in this case is similar to most other cases. The scammer will ask the victim to download a fake ‘A-shares Connect’ mobile investment app, then direct the victim to input funds into nine different local personal bank accounts,” said Senior Inspector Billy Ng Chun-yiu of the commercial crime bureau.

The surge is part of a broader uptick in investment scams in the city, with the number of reported incidents almost doubling to 2,850 last year from 1,511 in 2021.

Over the same period, the amount lost through investment scams fell from HK$3.36 billion to HK$1.86 billion, largely due to a decline in more costly deception cases.

Ng said scammers often posed as licensed brokers or customer service staff, inviting victims to join social media groups where fraudsters pretended to share investment tips offering return rates of between 20 and 50 per cent.

(From left) Senior Inspector Billy Ng, Chief Inspector Or Wing-yan and Mofiz Chan.


The fraudsters also shared the fake mobile trading platform, claiming victims could invest in stocks not listed on either Shanghai Connect or Shenzhen Connect, referring to the two official securities trading and clearing link programmes set up by the Hong Kong stock exchange and the mainland bourses.

Currently, those in Hong Kong can only invest in authorised mainland stocks listed on the two mutual markets operating in the city.

One of the victims, a 52-year-old surnamed Lee with 10 years of investment experience, said he was initially able to withdraw funds from his account on the fake platform, after shifting money to the scammers’ personal bank accounts.

“I saw profits rising by 10 per cent at a time, so I kept transferring funds and ended up injecting a lot of money. I did try to withdraw funds in the meantime, which worked out fine, so I didn’t think the platform had any issues,” he said.

“They said the account was set up on the mainland. Since I was buying mainland stocks, I had to transfer funds to those accounts to be transferred into the mainland account. I didn’t suspect anything as I saw the corresponding amount displayed on the app.”

Lee was duped out of HK$1.2 million over four months and became suspicious in April after the platform repeatedly sent error notifications and requested he pay further large sums to retrieve his money.

Police are still investigating Lee’s case.

The force said it had arrested 50 suspects in connection with 809 reports of investment scams between January and March.

Hong Kong Securities and Futures Professionals Association chairman Mofiz Chan said a global shift of capital to mainland stocks, due to recent market instabilities in Europe and the United States, had made such investment scams popular.

“When coupled with the final stages of interest rate hikes, or even talk of a reduction in interest rates, capital will flow to areas of economic growth, hastening capital flow from Hong Kong to the mainland stock market,” he said.

Chan also reminded the public to check the website of the Securities and Futures Commission, the city’s financial regulator, for the licences of securities providers.

When opening accounts, investors should also complete the process in offices listed on the commission’s webpages and only transfer money to bank accounts featured on the provider’s site, he added.

The security provider representative also advised industry professionals to keep an eye out for sudden account cancellations or suspicious fund transfers among clients, as well as urging them to strengthen compliance checks.

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