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Rogue agency owner, staff accused of scamming 8 Filipinas out of $180k

20 March 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

The agency owner and her staff offered high-paying jobs to relatives of 8 OFWs

A convicted rogue employment agency owner and her Filipina staff have collected $180,000 from eight Filipino domestic helpers in an employment scam that offered high-paying blue-collar jobs in Hong Kong and Macau, Hong Kong Customs said.

Suzette Ip, head of Unfair Trade Practice Investigation, said the 54-year-old agency owner and her 42-year-old staff duped the eight victims with offers of high pay, regular hours and overtime work, free meals and accommodation to their relatives and friends.

“The victims were also told that their relatives and friends could apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong and Macau after securing the employment,” she said in a media briefing on Mar 17. She did not name the suspects.

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In an emailed response to The SUN, Customs declined to confirm that former agency owner Lennis Ebrahim and her staff Mary Jane Biscocho were the ones referred to in the press briefing as the alleged culprits in the scam.

The SUN had reported the arrest by customs operatives of Ebrahim and Biscocho on Nov 7 last year, after an investigation of the complaints filed by several alleged victims detailing nearly the same circumstances.

The complainants in the earlier report also said the two accused operated from two different offices – one in Kwun Tong, and another in To Kwa Wan, which were the same addresses given by customs operatives.
Ip said the two offered jobs including waiter, gardener, builder and factory worker with monthly salaries between $7,000 and $13,000. Each applicant was charged an agency fee of at least $12,000.

The biggest loss in a single case was $24,000, which was paid by one of the complainants for a job as cleaner in Macau for her boyfriend.

Customs officers launched “Operation Phantom” that began investigating the scam after receiving a complaint in the summer of 2019 against the employment agency, Ip said.
“The victims were also told that their relatives and friends could apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong and Macau after securing the employment,” she said.

Ip said the officers earlier received information that staff of two employment agencies, one in Kwun Tong and another in To Kwa Wan, were allegedly making false claims in selling employment agency services to foreign helpers.

In their complaint to the EAA which they shared with The SUN last year, two alleged victims named the agency as WHT Consultant Company, which had a license to operate as an employment agency at the time. Ebrahim was its licensee.

WHT allegedly promised the complainants that it could arrange for the helpers’ relatives and friends to come and work in Hong Kong. But after collecting money from them, WHT reportedly failed to offer any jobs to their relatives in the Philippines.

The complainants said Ebrahim and her staff first operated from an industrial building in Kwun Tong. But when they started demanding a refund of their money, the two moved to a textile warehouse in To Kwa Wan, and blocked the claimants from contacting them on the phone and social media.

The two said they called the police and brought them to the WHT office in To Kwa Wan. But they found the office locked, and no one answered the door when they rang the bell.

As soon as they left, however, the complainants said Biscocho and another Filipina staff, Nympha Lumatac, sent them SMS messages taunting them for bringing police escorts.

On Nov 15 last year, two charges of applying a false trade description to a service offered to consumers were brought against Biscocho in Kwun Tong Court. She was refused bail.

She and Ebrahim were due to appear again on Jan 31 in the same court, but that did not push through in the wake of court suspensions amid the coronavirus epidemic.

Ebrahim used to own Vicks Maid Consultant Co., which was convicted and its license revoked by EAA for overcharging a jobseeker in July 2015.

Ip said that Customs will continue to step up enforcement to combat unfair trade practices by employment agencies and reminded traders that they must comply with the TDO requirements of the Trade Description Ordinance.

Under the TDO, any trader who applies a false trade description to a service supplied to a consumer commits an offense punishable by a $500,000 fine and five years jail term.

The public may report any suspected violations of the TDO to Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (crimereport@customs.gov.hk).
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