June 16, 2024

A respected Hong Kong herbalist was duped out of more than HK$5 million (US$641,000) in a twin fraud operation. The scams, aimed at helping him retrieve HK$1.17 million lost in a previous online job fraud, were perpetrated by fraudsters alleging to be legal specialists.

A person privy to the case disclosed on Tuesday that the 69-year-old Chinese medicine expert was initially deceived by a pretend click farming scheme in January. The herbalist received a WhatsApp message luring him into taking on online tasks to boost camera sales. He was promised payment via commission.

However, he was duped into transferring over HK$1.17 million into the scam artist’s bank account as an ‘administration fee’ for the online work. After failing to retrieve his money or any commission, the herbalist realised he had been scammed and reported his case to the police on January 20.

Later, he came upon a fraudulent online ad claiming to assist victims of scams in retrieving their lost funds legally. He was tricked again and transferred more tham HK$5 million into several fake bank accounts as processing charges and surety.

After his attempts to contact the individuals claiming to help him recover his money failed, he reached out to the police for assistance on Saturday. The fake online ad and fraudulent webpage set up by the scammers were subsequently taken down by the Internet service company on the police’s request.

On their CyberDefender Facebook page, the Police posted a warning about the rise in impostors claiming to be detective agencies or legal professionals promising online scam victims recovery of their funds with a falsely projected 90% success rate.

Notably, the Police alerted the public on the same Facebook page about a similar case involving a Hong Kong woman. Four years prior, the woman had lost HK$80,000 to a romance scam and was promised help in recuperating her losses by fake lawyers. However, she ended up losing over HK$1 million instead.

The Police use their ‘Scameter’ search engine that’s accessible via the CyberDefender website or app, for public awareness. This tool helps users verify suspicious elements like emails, web addresses, IP addresses, mobile numbers, platform usernames, and bank accounts.

There’s been a significant 42.6% increase in various types of scams in Hong Kong with 39,824 reported cases last year, up from 27,923 in 2022. Consequently, the financial losses have also witnessed an 89% increase, surging to HK$9.1 billion in 2023 as compared to HK$4.8 billion in the preceding year.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a ‘Scam within a Scam’?

Characteristic of ‘double deceit’, a ‘scam within a scam’ involves the victim being tricked a second time on the pretence of recovering their losses from the initial scam. In this case, the Hong Kong herbalist was first lured into a false click farming operation and later into another fraudulent scheme claiming to help retrieve his lost money.

How does the ‘Scameter’ search engine work?

The ‘Scameter’ search engine is a tool deployed by the Hong Kong Police for public awareness against scams. It allows users to verify potentially suspicious elements such as web addresses, platform usernames, emails, IP addresses, mobile numbers, and bank accounts.

What led to the increase in scams in Hong Kong?

While it’s challenging to pinpoint one definitive cause for the rise in scams, aspects such as the increasing digitalisation of transactions and the Covid-19 pandemic are potential contributing factors. Frauds involving online job offers, romance scams, and those impersonating legal professionals have particularly seen a surge.