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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

Hong Kong retiree, 78, arrested for part in HK$250 million phone scam

Hong Kong retiree, 78, arrested for part in HK$250 million phone scam

Financial losses to phone scams have risen by 41 per cent in Hong Kong from 2020 to 2021, as scammers use Covid-19 related fear-mongering to target victims.
A 78-year-old retiree has been arrested for his part in Hong Kong’s biggest phone scam, involving a 90-year-old woman duped out of HK$250 million (US$31.9 million).

He was allegedly recruited by fraudsters to pose as a mainland Chinese agent to “spy” on the victim. The man was arrested during a raid on his public housing flat in Kowloon on Wednesday, after a 12-month investigation, police said.

Chief Inspector Mok Tsz-wai of the Kowloon East regional crime unit said the investigation suggested that scammers paid him more than HK$20,000 to be “responsible for delivering a mobile phone to the victim, and escorting her into a bank to do money transfers”.

The mobile phone was used by con artists to monitor the victim, who had been instructed to regularly report her movements.

He has been detained on suspicion of obtaining property by deception – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The man is the second suspect detained by police in connection to the scam. They have recovered HK$10 million from two bank accounts used by the swindlers.

Officers arrested a 19-year-old male student in March last year, also in connection to this case.

The 90-year-old woman living in a mansion on The Peak was conned out of HK$250 million between August 2020 and January 2021 after scammers convinced her that her identity had been used in a serious criminal case on the mainland.

The amount makes her the victim of the biggest known phone scam in the city.

After she called the police in March last year, investigations showed that the money had been transferred to three bank accounts on the mainland, and two accounts in Hong Kong.

In the first three months of this year, phone scammers swindled 339 Hongkongers out of a total of HK$130 million. Over the same period last year, police handled 200 reports of phone scams involving losses of HK$350 million.

The 78-year-old man was among 27 people rounded up between Wednesday and Friday in connection with 19 reports of phone scams that involved HK$280 million.

The cases were reported to police between August 2020 and March 2022, and included four students – three boys and one girl – aged between 18 and 20. Among the others were waiters, waitresses and the unemployed.

Police said two of them were recruited by fraudsters to work as “spies”, while the others were the holders of bank accounts used to collect and launder proceeds of crime.

All suspects have been released on bail, pending further investigation. Police said an active investigation was still underway, and further arrests were possible.

The chief inspector said phone scammers recently invented Covid-19-related excuses to prey on their targets.

“Victims are usually accused of smuggling vaccines into Hong Kong, spreading fake information about the coronavirus, and flouting anti-pandemic measures,” Mok said, adding that police had handled 55 such phone scams in the first three months this year.

On Wednesday, police revealed a case in which a 40-year-old housewife was swindled out of HK$65 million by phone scammers, who had accused her of spreading fake news about the central government’s measures to fight the coronavirus on the mainland.

She has lost more than any other phone-scam victim this year. She forked over all her savings, borrowed money from her mother and mortgaged her flat to pay the criminals.

Her case came to light on Sunday when the fraudsters approached her husband, a local businessman, and tried swindling him as well.

Though the number of reported phone scams fell by 53 cases to 1,140 last year, the financial losses involved have risen by 41 per cent, from HK$575 million in 2020 to HK$811 million in 2021.

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