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Businessman conned out of HK$2.2 million in romance scam familiar tale amid surge in Hong Kong cybercrimes | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating

It turned out to be an investment scam.

Scammers dupe Hongkongers out of HK$31.5 million in low-interest loan cons

“I was so stupid to trust her and invest all my family savings,” businessman Albert Berton (not his real name), 53, told the Post. He had never met the woman.

Police said 822 cases involving romance scams were reported in the first half of this year, almost double the 429 in the same period in 2020.

There were 74 reports of e-banking fraud in the first six months of the year, when victims typically received phishing emails or text messages that appeared to be from their banks and were tricked into revealing personal data the scammers used to steal from their accounts. No such reports were made over the same period last year.

Other technology crime reports rose 13.3 per cent to 7,270 in the first six months from 6,414 over the same period last year.

Police and experts warned since last year that people staying home and using the internet more for a variety of activities during the pandemic became more vulnerable to being targeted by online fraudsters.

French businessman Berton did not see any red flags when a stranger claiming to be a 35-year-old woman from Shenzhen befriended him in March over the social-networking platform LinkedIn.

They started chatting on WhatsApp, exchanging up to 40 messages a day over two months and he felt a relationship developing even as he was impressed by her apparent wealth.

“She talked about our potential future together,” he said. “She showed me the Bulgari jewels she bought for her mother and aunt, her Ferrari, real estate and her US$8 million stock portfolio.”

She told him her uncle worked for the Hong Kong stock exchange and also invited him to visit her in the city.

One day the woman encouraged him to invest in a Hong Kong stock, claiming she had insider information and he was assured of handsome returns.

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Not long after he sank in HK$2.2 million, the stock price crashed, he lost his money and the woman vanished.

He became the victim of a “pump and dump” scam, in which fraudsters with considerable holdings of specific low-priced stocks spend time gaining their victims’ trust before persuading them to invest.

Victims snap up the stock, helping to drive up the price. But as soon as it peaks, the fraudsters dump their holdings and make a killing, leaving their hapless victims to watch their investment disappear as the stock price collapses.

“Now I am left with nothing,” Berton said. “I have been fooled by someone who played very well with my feelings and expectations.”

Phishing cases surfaced this year, with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority recording a total of HK$22 million stolen from 111 bank customers from January to June.

Police have reminded users to exercise caution with others they meet online. Photo: Shutterstock

The Post also received several phishing scam reports recently, with the victim in one case claiming to have lost more than HK$200,000.

Victims said they received text messages which appeared to be from their bank, with an embedded hyperlink.

When they clicked on the link, they were asked to provide personal data including their e-banking login and password, which scammers then used to steal from their accounts.

The upwards trend in cybercrime in Hong Kong was also reflected in analysis by United States-based credit bureau TransUnion of billions of transactions over 40,000 websites and apps.

It found that suspected digital fraud attempts in Hong Kong rose 62.4 per cent from April to June compared with the same quarter last year – way above the 16.5 per cent increase globally.

‘Pretty girls, strange uncles’ target youngsters staying online longer

The analysis also showed that online communities in Hong Kong, such as dating groups and discussion forums, were among the most frequently targeted, with fraud attempts leaping 333.3 per cent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year.

The next groups targeted most frequently were those involved in online gaming, with fraud attempts more than doubling over the same period year on year.

“As the city gradually recovered from the pandemic and people started to increase their discretionary spending, and communities and gaming activities became more mainstream, fraudsters clearly made these industries their top targets,” TransUnion APAC’s chief products officer Jerry Ying said.

A TransUnion survey of 783 people in Hong Kong in June found that about one in three had been a target or victim of digital fraud.

Nearly 100 respondents said they experienced Covid-19-related phishing, 63 said they were subject to fraud related to stolen credit cards or fraudulent charges, and 57 said they faced shipping fraud.

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Police appealed to the public to be cautious with those they met online and avoid revealing personal information or sharing photographs.

“Do not respond to suspicious requests by online friends who ask to borrow money or request fund transfers for all sorts of reasons,” a police spokesman said.

Police also added that online users should never open any attachment in unidentified emails or log into online accounts, such as e-banking, via hyperlinks attached in emails, search engines, and suspicious pop-up windows.

Professor Hui Kai-lung of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s business school said internet users had to stay vigilant all the time.

He warned they should avoid engaging in “intimate exchanges” or “monetary transactions” with those they met online.

“No matter how well they describe themselves or how handsome or pretty they are, you should not believe any of it,” he added. “Do not believe everything that is presented online.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Frenchman loses HK$2.2m in love scam


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