- As online rackets become public enemy number one in terms of Hong Kong crime statistics, city police are trying everything to warn potential victims
- At a media briefing this week, the city’s top cop gave reporters dark and white chocolates to symbolise good and bad on the internet
The days when your average Hong Kong criminal was a gun-toting armed robber or kidnapper are long gone.
Today, the criminal out to steal your hard-earned cash is much more likely to be an innovative and manipulative confidence trickster with an untraceable digital device.
This quantum shift in the nature of crime means law enforcement also need to innovate to keep pace with what is rapidly becoming, in cash lost terms, Hong Kong’s biggest criminal menace – online scams.
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Innovation of sorts was on display earlier this week when the city’s top cop, Hong Kong Police Commissioner, Raymond Siu Chak-yee, unveiled the force’s latest weapon in the war against online racketeers and fraudsters – chocolates.
At a press conference aimed at raising public awareness about online fraud, Siu handed out two chocolates, one dark and one white, in a gift-wrapped little box to members of the media.
His message was clear: “The meaning here is that people must tell black from white. When facing potential scams, people need to make a clear analysis of the situation to decide whether they are being deceived.”
In a nod to Valentines’ Day, a label was attached to the box of “anti-scam chocolates” reminding the public that romance racketeers out to steal your heart are only after your money.
While the confected crime-fighting initiative could be seen as frivolous, deception statistics in the city are no laughing matter.
Scams like online shopping, employment and investment, as well as phone fraud, are driving the city’s crime rate which jumped 8.7 per cent in 2022 compared with the previous year.
Deception cases hit 27,923 last year, almost 40 per cent of the total crimes recorded, up 45 per cent on 2021. About 70 per cent of the deception cases involved online rackets.
Losses to investment fraud and telephone deception, more than HK$1.8 billion (US$230 million) and HK$1 billion respectively, were a cause for concern, the police said.
The force has tapped various channels to spread anti-scam information, rolling out campaigns from “Anti-Deception Season” to “Emotional Disturbances Faced by Scam Victims”.
Last year, the force introduced “Scameter”, an anti-scam website and mobile app designed to help people check suspicious websites, emails, phone numbers, or payment account numbers.
Police also distributed e-books and animation picture books to spread the word about online pitfalls and deception to primary and secondary schools in the city.
But despite efforts to raise awareness, people continue to fall prey to online criminals who manipulate emotions such as trust, guilt, greed, love and loneliness to snare their victims.
The deployment of “sob stories” by internet fraudsters is common.
This month, it was revealed that a romance scammer who posed as a Korean working as an engineer in Poland managed to dupe a 51-year-old Hong Kong woman out of more than HK$9.6 million (US$1.3 million) after telling her he had terminal lung cancer and would die if he did not receive an organ transplant.
Earlier this month, a 58-year old executive at a Hong Kong fashion company fell victim to an online pet scam, transferring HK$6 million in cryptocurrency in what was a bogus sale of a kitten.
In January, a Hong Kong lawyer fell victim to a phone scam after a swindler impersonating a mainland Chinese police officer duped her out of almost HK$5.7 million.
Elderly people are often targeted too.
In January 2019, news surfaced that an 85-year-old retiree had been conned out of HK$580 million (US$74 million) in one of Hong Kong’s biggest ever bullion trading scams.
The Hong Kong man was one of seven investors who lost almost HK$620 million in the racket which involved trading gold on the London commodities market.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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