Hong Kong sees an explosion of impersonation scams

Hong Kong is witnessing an explosion of phone and internet fraud as criminals pose as local or Chinese officials to demand money from victims, police said on Wednesday.

The rise comes as an economic slowdown weighs on the city, and authorities crack down on dissent after massive democratic protests three years ago, fueling fear of official authority.

Police said in a briefing on Wednesday that 956 cases of phone fraud were reported from January to July this year, up 60 percent year on year.

A total of HK$470 million ($60 million) was lost to scam artists in this period.

There was an 87 percent rise in the number of scams involving people impersonating officials, which accounts for about 60 percent of all scams.

This method of cheating was by far the most profitable, producing 90 percent of all losses.

“Usual tactics have included establishing authority by claiming to be law enforcement or law enforcement officials and asking victims to keep things to themselves in order to isolate them,” Wu Qinbang, a police clinical psychologist, told reporters.

Also Read: Nigerian Cybercrime Leader Arrested In Sandton For R196m In Romance Scams

Although phone and internet scams have long been a problem in Hong Kong, the numbers reveal how lucrative impersonating officials can be as the city strictly enforces pandemic rules and becomes like the authoritarian mainland of China.

An unidentified victim, in a video played by the police, described how she received a call from someone claiming to be an official who accused her of violating coronavirus restrictions.

“The caller could tell me all my personal information, so I wasn’t suspicious,” she recalls.

She said she then made a video call to a man in uniform who claimed to be a security official in Guangdong – a Chinese province bordering Hong Kong – who demanded her bank login details.

The biggest scam so far this year involved HK$65 million and was carried out by people claiming to be officials from the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong and China’s Supreme Prosecution Authority.

Since many victims are embarrassed by their experience, it is believed that the true number of cases is much higher than the reported scams.

Hong Kong police said they did not believe the cases involving impersonation of officials were linked to the so-called “pig slaughter” hoaxes from Southeast Asia that have become a regional disaster.

There has been growing international concern in recent months about these scammers, who operate mostly in Cambodia and Myanmar. Victims were persuaded to make fake investments, usually in crypto wallets, which were eventually emptied.

Insiders and former investigators say some of those running the scams are the same human trafficking victims who thought they were responding to real job ads overseas.

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