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Police warn vs. scams amid surge in cases

30 October 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Police data show deception cases more than doubled in the first half of the year

While Hong Kong grappled with pro-democracy protests and the coronavirus epidemic in the first half of this year, scammers had been busy plying their trade, prompting police to renew their warning to the public to be wary.

Crime statistics collated by the Hong Kong Police Department showed that from January to June this year, deception cases shot up to 8,129, almost equal to the full-year total of 8,216 cases last year.

The first-half figure this year was 113% more than the 3,855 deception cases reported in the same period last year.

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Filipina migrant workers were not spared by the con men, who in at least two recent cases, became unsuspecting conduits for money laundering by men who wooed them online.

In the first of these cases, some of the money transferred to the Filipina was squeezed from other unsuspecting female victims.

The police’s Anti-Deception Coordination Centre said scammers trawl the internet for possible victims.   

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“Once they have gained the latter’s trust, they will ask to borrow the victims’ accounts for allegedly lawful purposes using various pretexts,” the ADCC said.

In fact, they use the accounts to collect illicit money and lure the victims to withdraw the cash for them.

“The act of lending one’s account to others for unlawful purposes might have constituted the offense of ‘Dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offence’ [money laundering], which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $5 million,” the ADCC said.

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An unfortunate example was E. Gumabay, a 44-year-old helper who was jailed for 12 months in late June after her bank account was found to have been used to launder nearly $1.6 million.

Gumatay denied any involvement, saying she just lent her two ATM cards to an online friend she knew only as Williams.

The crime was uncovered after police traced to her bank accounts cash deposited separately by two female love scam victims for their online boyfriend, Dennis Leung.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang Kwentong Dream Love

Another Filipina helper fell into a similar trap in April. An African man she met online convinced her to lend him her ATM card, then proceeded to use it for laundering $1.62 million in just two months.

The Filipina's bank statement shows $1.62 million passed through her account in 2 months

Warned about the consequences, the woman helper reported the case to the police and the bank.

The police appealed to the public not to open bank accounts for friends or lend their own accounts to them lest they would breach the law on money laundering.

“Don’t lend your bank accounts to others. Don’t disclose details of your bank accounts to others. Remind your relatives and friends the risk of scams,” the ADCC said.

Another trick the police warn against is scammers befriending their victims via social networking platforms, dating apps or instant messaging and then sweet-talking them into undressing or performing indecent acts in front of a webcam.

“They’d also entice the latter to download malicious apps or disclose verification codes of instant messaging software with the intention of stealing their contact details,” the ADCC said.

The victims are then told they had been filmed naked and ordered to transfer money to a designated overseas bank account, settle the sum in bitcoins or buy virtual point cards, or else the footage would be circulated to their friends and families, the ADCC said.

The council advised the public not to trust newly met strangers on the internet.

“Be vigilant. Don’t engage in naked chat, especially in the online virtual world. Reject scammers’ unreasonable requests such as remittance, purchase of virtual money or point cards,” the ADCC said, advising people to call the anti-scam helpline 18222 if in doubt.

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