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How phone fraudsters tried to trick an SCMP reporter into giving up her Hong Kong bank details with lure of easy money | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating


Within hours, I received a WhatsApp message from “Lina”, who used a local mobile phone number to explain the offer.

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Although her instructions were vague, Lina said the job involved helping developers “optimise” their apps through a platform provided by a software company called Rocketech so they would rank higher in the Apple App Store and similar marketplaces.

“The nature of this job is freelance (unskilled, no experience required) and the only requirement for you to do this job is to have a device with internet access,” Lina wrote.

Lina said I could earn a commission of HK$500 to HK$1,500 (US$63 to US$191) per day on top of a base salary of HK$31,000, for work that would take only 30 minutes each time.

She added that she had pocketed HK$100,000 herself in monthly commissions, more than she earned from her full-time job.

“Kristy” makes the first move and offers details of a job opportunity. Photo: SCMP

It was all too good to be true, and exactly what Hong Kong police have been describing when warning the public against scammers. I spotted all the red flags: high pay, easy work, no qualifications or experience needed.

There were 2,884 online job fraud cases involving losses of HK$459 million last year, four times the HK$85 million swindlers pocketed in 1,063 cases in 2021.

From January to February this year, there were 584 job fraud cases involving losses of HK$128.1 million. There were also 4,125 online deception cases in the same period with total reported losses of HK$519.4 million.

Doing some due diligence after Lina’s offer, an online check turned up a Singapore-based software company named Rocketech, whose weblink was very similar to the one she had sent me.

I turned to Scameter, the police anti-scam search engine, where those who suspect they are being tricked by online or phone fraudsters can input a weblink and test its authenticity.

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Scameter told me the weblink Lina sent was a “high risk” for fraud. She had sent me a link to a fake Rocketech site.

To protect myself while proceeding, I decided to use a burner phone and number to perform the tasks.

Cleared to begin, I created an account with the recruitment company and found I had already been credited with HK$88 – a welcome gift for new users.

There were four tiers of workers: normal, gold, platinum and diamond. At the lowest tier, I would get a 0.25 per cent commission on every deal.

But I would have to pay HK$300 to “activate the account”. The highest diamond tier required HK$100,000 for activation, but the profit margin was 0.8 per cent per deal.

I did not have to activate the account immediately as Lina said she had already created a “training account” for me to start work, and when I looked, it appeared to have HK$20,888.

“Lina” chimes in and asks the Post reporter to register with a phoney website. Photo: SCMP

Lina said: “The balance is correct, there is an HK$88 bonus for new registrations.”

She said she had topped up her own training account with HK$20,000 and received an HK$800 bonus. “This way, you can earn a little more commission,” she said.

Now I had to complete 45 tasks on the training account.

An “optimisation submission” pop-up message showed the logos of famous brands such as Pizza Hut, Adidas and Taobao, one by one. All I had to do was to click “submit” each time to “optimise” each brand, repeating that 45 times.

Then I reached task 27 and the site said I did not have enough funds to continue.

When I asked Lina for help, she replied that I was “lucky to get a combo assignment”, which meant I stood to earn six times the normal commission.

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Lina offered to deposit money on my behalf so I could continue, but told me to contact Rocketech’s customer services first.

That led to a WhatsApp message from a new number, showing a screenshot of bank account details, and a message to send it to Lina so that the deposit could be paid for me.

Minutes later, Lina sent a screenshot of a HK$2,400 bank transfer, which meant I now had sufficient funds to complete the remainder of my tasks.

When I was done, Lina said: “Good, you have completed your basic training. You can now log out of your account and log in to your own account to see if the commission has reached your account.”

I found that my original account had been credited with HK$297.62. Lina said that was 20 per cent of my training account earnings.

I completed the next 45 tasks on my own account and then asked Lina what happened next.

“You now need to activate your account to withdraw money,” she said.

“Lina” promises easy money but pleas for sympathy fall on deaf ears. Photo: SCMP

This meant I would have to pay HK$300, but she assured me that I would be able to withdraw the money and my commission immediately. And, if I completed my tasks for five days in a row, I stood to earn HK$3,000.

That was when I stood on the brink of becoming another scam victim. To pay the HK$300, I would have to connect the Rocketech account with my bank account and credit card.

I told Lina I was penniless, without money even for lunch, and asked if she could lend me the money to proceed.

Lina replied: “It hurts me to hear it.”

About six hours later, Lina texted to ask if I had finished eating. I did not reply.

When I described my experience to Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary president Francis Fong Po-kiu, he was not surprised and said he had experimented by engaging with scammers too.

He said they used psychological tricks to get their victims to part with their money.

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Victims might think they had to pay only a small sum to collect their huge commissions, but scammers would then trick them into paying more repeatedly to claim even bigger rewards before abandoning them.

Some reported losing as much as HK$450,000 to get their hands on handsome commissions they believed were coming their way.

Fong also advised people to ignore messages from strangers and beware of greed, which made victims fall for offers of easy money.

Police advise the public to use the Scameter or contact the 24-hour anti-scam helpline at 18222 if they receive suspicious moneymaking offers.

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