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Manager at Hong Kong finance firm loses HK$14 million to man she never met in eight-year online love scam relationship

This Con artist pretended to be British movie director as police reveal city’s residents lost HK$75.9 million in similar scams in first three months alone of this year

A financial professional person has become Hong Kong’s biggest victim of internet romance scams, losing HK$14 million (US$1.8 million) to a con artist she only had an online relationship with for eight years, police sources revealed, amid an upswing in such cases just this year.

Online romance scammers duped 119 Hongkongers to the tune of HK$75.9 million in total in the first three months of this year, five times more than the amount scammed for the same period last year.

A police source described the eight-year con as the longest-lasting online love scam in the city, and the HK$14 million lost as the largest in a solitary case.

The victim, a woman in her 40s who works as a manager in a financial institution, met her purported lover on an online dating website and transfered the money to bank accounts in Malaysia and Hong Kong in over 200 transactions starting in 2010, sources told the Post.

She did not meet him face-to-face throughout their entire eight-year online relationship.

After using up all her own savings, the woman applied for loans and borrowed money from family and friends before eventually realising last month that she had been swindled by her online lover, who pretended to be a British film director and only ever made contact with her via email and WhatsApp messaging.

According to police, the woman first became acquainted with the swindler, who used a photograph of a white man in his online dating profile, in August 2010. The con artist spent three months befriending his victim, before he first requested money from her.

“He claimed he was detained by Malaysian authorities after being found carrying about £300,000 in breach of the country’s laws,” another police source said.

“In the beginning, the victim was asked to transfer more than HK$10,000 to pay the administration fee for his release. The scammer then invented different excuses, and duped the victim into transferring yet again more money.”

Another source said the victim had made between 200 and 300 transactions in total, with amounts ranging from HK$10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars at a single time. The last transaction was made in March.

The case only became tevident after the victim talked to her family when she tried to borrow more money, and realised she had been cheated. She called police in mid-April.

Investigators could not find any British film director with the name used by the con artist. Sources said they were trying to trace the holders of the bank accounts used in the scam, and interchanging intelligence with their Malaysian counterparts.

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Official police figures show nearly 93 per cent of the victims in the first quarter were women, and almost 12 per cent of them were professionals. More than 80 per cent of them were aged between 31 and 60.

Police said 113 of the victims were Hongkongers, and the remaining six were women from mainland China and Taiwan living in the city.

In 2017, 235 people were swindled out of HK$108 million in such scams, more than double the 114 cases in 2016, which involved HK$95 million.

Another police source said the money lost in online scams in the first five months of this year was likely to be more than the amount lost over the whole of last year.

In addition to the HK$14 million case in April, two other women were cheated out of a total of HK$8 million in May.

The rampant online love scams have prompted the police force’s Anti-Deception Coordination Centre to issue a scam alert on its website.

Scammers are typically disguised as “Caucasian” European or American men, claim to be professionals working in fields such as engineering, banking, business or the military, and befriend victims online.

It usually takes them at least one or two months to win the trust and sympathy of their victims, before inventing different reasons to get them to part with their money.

According to police, the swindlers are constantly changing their tactics, and police are urging the public to be wary of who they talk to online.

“Beware of online romance scammers who want MONEY, not LOVE!” a message on the website warns.

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Henry Sapiecha

This scam costing Australians $22m more than the dating scams

Investment scams cost Australians more money than dating scams last year, with losses of more than $60 million, an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report has discovered.

Combined data from the ACCC and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) found investment scams cost Australian consumers $64 million in 2017. The average reported loss was $53,827, with 20 reports of losses of $400,000 or more.

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ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said there had been both an increase in the amount of money people were losing to investment scams and an increase in people reporting them.

“Until recently, it’s usually been dating and romance scams that have had the highest losses but they have been overtaken by investment scams in the last year, and people are losing significant amounts of money to them,” she said.

Investment scams offer a range of fake financial opportunities with the promise of quick returns, often using smooth talking, glossy brochures or professional-looking websites to lure victims.

“They’re not particularly new scams,” Ms Rickard said. “However, I think in low inflation times, at low interest rate returns, it makes investments more attractive to people who are concerned about things like their retirement income.”

Dating and relationship scams were still second for sheer cost, with Australians losing just over $42 million to those scams last year, equal with the year before.

Ms Rickard, who is also chair of the Scams Awareness Network, said while the number of reported dating and relationship scams had dropped, the platforms used by scammers have started to change.

“Scams are increasingly being delivered by social media, places like Facebook, so it’s important to be vigilant,” she said.

“Certainly romance scams particularly have shifted to social media – they used to all be once through dating sites.”

Across scams reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, ACORN and other government agencies, Australians lost a whopping $340 million to scams in 2017, the report concluded.

That figure is $40 million more than in 2016, and the first time reported losses have risen above $300 million, the ACCC deputy chair said.

“I think even that over-$340 million figure … significantly understates the extent of losses to scams,” she said.

Older people are more vulnerable to all types of cons, with people aged 55 to 64 losing the most money, followed by those aged over 65.

More women reported falling victim to scams than men, but “men tend to lose more money, and that’s probably because men tend to have more money than women,” Ms Rickard said.

“In terms of the scams where you lose a great deal of money, women are more likely to be the victims of romance scams, men are more likely to be the victims of investment scams.”

From reports to the ACCC alone, men reported losses of $22.8 million to investment scams, while women lost $12.7 million to dating and romance scams.

The most common scams reported to the ACCC and ACORN were false billing scams, identity theft and phishing. The ACCC’s report found the real cost of those types of scams was difficult to quantify as the primary aim of the scammer is to gather information for future use.

“The ACCC received over 55,000 reports of these kinds of scams in 2017 and there is little doubt that many more were encountered but not reported,” the report said.

Ms Rickard said there was also an increase in scams involving cryptocurrencies.

“Whether it’s fake exchanges – so you’re not really investing in the real thing – or people asking to be paid by cryptocurrency, that would be another new trend for this year,” she said.

For people worried about scams, Ms Rickard said the Scamwatch website has much helpful information.

“You really will find all the information about scams that are going around, how to identify them, how to avoid them, and what to do if you’ve been scammed,” she said.

The ACCC also has a hard-copy publication, The Little Black Book of Scams, which Ms Rickard said is especially helpful for older people.

A scammer’s trick which involved posing as an officer from the ATO duped many Australians in late 2017. Would you have been wiser? The author here was almost the victim of an attempted scam as per above only just days ago. May 2018. I gave the caller both barrels through the phone. The recorded mesage was in great English.Calling back the number a male Indian voice responded & said he was with the Australian Tax Office. That 02..number is now silent..

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Henry Sapiecha