Editorial : HK's biggest phone scam ever

【明報專訊】Phone scams and online scams have increased significantly in Hong Kong amid the pandemic. A 90-year-old woman became the victim of a fraudulent scheme and was defrauded of $250 million within six months in the biggest phone scam involving a single victim ever in Hong Kong. The police have arrested a university student involved, but there are indications that the arrestee is also a victim. The mastermind behind the scam is still at large.

Wall-to-wall publicity campaigns to raise awareness of phone scams and online scams have been launched in recent years and seen by most citizens. However, cases of people being defrauded of their life savings or sadly losing huge sums of money can still be seen from time to time. The police have disclosed a phone scam involving millions of dollars recently. A 90-year-old woman who lives at Victoria Peak received a call last year. Someone who claimed to be a police officer in mainland China told her that her identity was suspected to have been stolen, and a serious criminal case was involved. She was instructed to "temporarily" transfer her bank deposits to a designated account. If investigations showed that the money was not related to criminal activities, the scammer said, it would be "returned" in the middle of this year. As the caller possessed her personal particulars, the old woman did not realise that it was a scam. Later, a person claiming to be a mainland police officer came to her house and gave her a phone with a SIM card so that they could contact each other. The victim fell even further for the scam. She transferred her money eleven times within five months totalling $250 million. It was not until early last month that the old woman, convinced by her daughter, finally reported the case to the police. After a police investigation, the 19-year-old student at Polytechnic University who impersonated a mainland police officer and came to the old woman's house was arrested. It turned out that he was also a victim of online fraud and was recruited to commit the crime.

The phone scam involves the greatest amount of money from a single victim ever in Hong Kong history. The sum of money defrauded is staggering, while the case itself also beggars belief. At this stage it is unclear how the PolyU student became the scammer's tool. Despite her age, the old woman was able to handle huge sums of money in the bank. Behaving as if she was under a spell, she completely believed in the scammer. The old woman once asked her private driver to drive her and the fraudster to the bank to make a bank transfer. The bank clerk asked her about the purpose of the transfer, and her reply was "buying a property". The clerk did not ask more questions. Her foreign domestic helper living under the same roof found the situation suspicious and notified the daughter of the old woman. Although her daughter felt that something was fishy, she did not call the police immediately. She just sent her relatives to monitor the situation at the bank. In recent years, the authorities have done much to call on the public to beware of phone scams and online scams. Banks have also issued guidelines to remind bank clerks to pay more attention to transfers of huge sums of money made by elderly people. However, the reality is that "a bystander is always clear-minded, while those involved in the situation can get confused". One of the main reasons why it is so difficult to prevent fraud is that the scammers are adept at grasping and exploiting the mind of a victim. It does not seem that the old woman was deceived because she was greedy. Those who easily blame the victim for a scam case are actually trying to vindicate the scammer.

Some scam syndicates even use all kinds of means to turn their hand-picked victims into "aides" to help them commit crimes, an example being the university student who has been arrested in the $250 million case. According to the police, there have been victims who thought they were "spies" when they were arrested. It helps prevent fraud if we pay more attention to the abnormalities in the financial management habits of the elderly or young members of our families and bank clerks pay more attention to unusual transfers and transactions.

明報社評2021.04.21:億元電騙情節離奇 法例漏洞早日堵塞







wall-to-wall : continuous; happening or existing all the time or everywhere

beggar belief : to be too extreme, shocking, etc. to believe

fishy : that makes you suspicious because it seems dishonest

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