June 25, 2024

In their biannual revision, the local law enforcement indicated that 75% of deceptive practices entail online manipulation. Here’s a roundup of significant digital swindles in Hong Kong and how individuals can safeguard themselves.

A series of online deceptions have resulted in the significant loss of money for many in Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock

Capitalising on Invigorating Investment Tips

In the Hounax incident, fraudsters communicated with individuals via social media and WhatsApp, offering them to participate in group dialogues to exchange “complimentary infallible advice”, according to the police force.

Enthralled parties would then proceed to establish an investment account, requiring them to install an app and divert funds to an external bank account to replenish their investment digit.

In spite of the account manifesting profitable returns, victims were unable to retrieve their funds when they attempted to do so.

From January to September, online investment frauds led to a staggering defeat of HK$2.13 billion – indeed, a substantial portion of the total amount defrauded, making it the predominant scam category.

How to Avoid ‘Limited Time Only’ Shopping Scams

Deceptive websites often entice shoppers with faux promotional offers, discounts or limited time international shopping services. As soon as victims transfer money to the specified account, the fraudsters vanish into thin air.

It’s important to note that online shopping scams constituted the largest fraction of fraud cases for the first three quarters of the year, accounting for almost a quarter of all reported instances.

It’s daunting to consider that in a single week in August, more than 230 Hong Kong residents fell victim to online shopping scams.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, the respected president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, advises consumers to utilise the law enforcement’s “Scameter” site to verify the legitimacy of unfamiliar platforms.

Customers must always exercise caution when a deal seems too good to be true, particularly if it originates from unknown sources.

“Being aware is the best protective shield one can have,” Fong added. “Websites can change on a daily basis.”

Evading the Threat of Trojan Horse Apps

While dog meat is outlawed in Hong Kong, last month witnessed fraudsters advertising the sale of this and other related products.

Anyone interested in purchasing the advertised products was instructed to download an Android application, a classic example of Trojan horse malware.

Once installed, these types of applications allow scamsters to remotely gain control of the user’s device, access its stored data, and even facilitate bank transactions unbeknownst to the hapless victim, Fong warns.

“Everything attainable on your mobile device can be achieved remotely,” he stated, highlighting that such unauthorised accessibility renders this scam “the most hazardous,” specifically targeting Android users predominantly.

Additionally, Fong recommended users install antivirus software on their smartphones and other devices.

Breached WhatsApp Accounts

Recently, authorities revealed an alarming ninefold increase in compromised instant messaging accounts like WhatsApp from August to September, with swindlers defrauding victims of HK$2.3 million just in September.

In the most recent tactics, fraudsters have created fake login pages for widely used messaging platforms, appearing as “sponsored content” atop search results.

Fraudulent Websites Posed as WhatsApp Login Pages Top Google Search Results in Hong Kong

Any victim who scans a QR code on these deceptive pages would inadvertently provide the swindlers with access to their account who could further exploit this to dupe people on the victim’s contact list by assuming their identity.

According to HKCERT, individuals can shield their accounts from such intrusions by activating two-step verification and PIN codes, and by establishing a recovery email.

Fong further suggested users to regularly audit devices linked to their WhatsApp account and promptly disconnect any that are unfamiliar or no longer in use.

The Resilient ‘Guess Who I Am?’ Trickery

Despite its long notoriety, this scam still ensnares unsuspecting victims.

In this impersonation ruse, the scammer pretends to be a relative in need and requests financial help.

A retiree tragically lost her life savings of HK$3.3 million in October after falling prey to someone pretending to be her son.

This year has already seen 1,822 incidents in the initial nine months, greatly surpassing the 1,540 reports for the entirety of last year.

Authorities Arrest Duo Suspected of Deceiving Elderly Hong Kong Woman of HK$3.3 Million

Different scams that are frequetly encountered involve fraudsters who claim that a known person to the target has been kidnapped or imposters posing as government officials.

Fong cautions individuals to refrain from transferring money before verifying the purported perilous conditions of the individual supposedly in need.

“Attempt to establish the authenticity of their predicament,” he recommends.