英文

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

疫下本港電話騙案、網上騙案升幅顯著,一名九旬老婦墮入陷阱,半年內被騙2.5億元,成為本港歷來金額最高的個人電話騙案,事後警方拘捕了一名涉案大學生,案情顯示被捕者亦是受害者,幕後主謀逍遙法外。

提防電騙網騙的廣告宣傳,近年鋪天蓋地,大多數市民都看過,可是被騙畢生積蓄或痛失巨款的案件,仍是時有所聞,最近警方披露一宗涉款億元計電騙案,一名家住港島山頂的九旬老婦,去年接獲來電,有自稱「內地公安」的人表示,老婦身分疑遭盜用,涉及嚴重案件,要求她將銀行存款「暫時」轉帳到指定戶口,若查證後證明不涉黑錢,將於今年中「退還」。老婦見來電者能說出其個人資料,不虞有詐,其後一名自稱「內地公安」的人上門,給老婦一部手機連SIM卡作聯絡之用,更令受害人深信不疑,5個月內十一度轉帳,合計2.5億元,直至上月初,老婦終在女兒勸告下報案,警方調查後,拘捕假冒公安上門的19歲理大生,原來他也是電騙受害者,之後被招攬犯案。

這宗本港歷來涉款最多的單一受害人電騙案,失款之巨令人咋舌,案情亦匪夷所思。涉案理大生何解成為騙徒傀儡,暫時仍不清楚;老婦雖然年邁,仍有能力往銀行處理巨款,卻又恍如着了魔般,對騙徒深信不疑。有一次,老婦要求私人司機載她和騙徒一起到銀行轉帳,銀行職員向老婦查詢匯款目的,老婦回答「置業」,職員未再追問;同住外傭覺得事態可疑,通知老婦的女兒,女兒雖覺不妥,惟未即時報警,只着親戚到銀行觀察。這些年,當局呼籲市民提防電騙網騙,下了不少工夫,銀行亦有指引,提醒櫃枱職員多些留意長者巨額轉帳,然而現實永遠是旁觀者清、當局者迷。騙案防不勝防,一大原因在於騙徒善於掌握並利用受害人的心理,案中老婦被騙,不見得是因為貪婪,動輒將騙案的出現,簡單歸咎於受害人本身,實際是幫騙徒開脫。

有行騙集團甚至以各種手段,從之前的受害者物色「助手」協助犯案,老婦2.5億元騙案,被捕大學生即屬一例;根據警方資料,有受害者被捕時還真的以為自己是在當「特務」。家人多些關注長者或年輕人理財習慣有否異樣、銀行職員多些留意不尋常轉帳交易,有助提防騙案。

■Glossary

生字

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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