A special police task force has been set up to investigate the growing phenomenon of "compensated dating" amid fears that underage girls offering paid- for escort services may become the victims of sex crimes.
The move follows the brutal killing in April of 16-year-old Wong Ka-mui, who was dismembered and had her body parts dumped in the sea.
Investigators said she was taking part in compensated dating, in which - through the internet - girls offer to shop, eat out or go to a movie with men in return for payment.
Police said more and more girls and young women are taking up the "trade."
Initial investigations have identified five websites on which such services are advertised.
Deputy Regional Commander (Kowloon West) Stephen Lo Wai- chung said there is a pattern in online dating websites.
"They put their personal information online saying they're willing to be a `friend' to do things together, like shopping, going to the movies and dinner. They also claim to be over 18 years old," Lo said.
A special undercover task force has been set up to investigate any link between online dating and prostitution involving underage girls. A man from the West Kowloon district was recently arrested by police who suspected he was involved in online dating with more than 10 girls. But there was no evidence of any prostitution involved, Lo said.
There are also no intelligence reports indicating any syndicated involvement in "running" the girls.
Previously, the police successfully prosecuted the webmasters of prostitution websites such as "141" and "161," which charge the prostitutes to display their adverts.
But it is tough to find fault in the free online dating sites, Lo said.
"We haven't received any reports so far that young girls have been forced to participate in compensated dating. We've also no evidence that somebody is masterminding the girls to prostitute themselves. It is not illegal if the websites are not charging."
Lo said they will continue to send undercover police to investigate the situation.
Lawyer Tang Tat-ming said free online dating websites breach the "outraging public decency" law, but the defendant may plead ignorance as a defense.
A girl, nicknamed Monique, 19, has one of the online dating profiles. She displays sexy photos of herself and lists her price, venue of meeting and type of services she offers.
"What I'm doing now is a transaction, I'm just getting what I need, it's very fair ... please don't try to save me, this is the only dignity I got," she wrote in a public blog.
Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong supervisor Wong Kwai- yau said morality among young people is on the decline.
"Compensated dating is becoming trendy. Most girls get into the `trade' to fulfill their material needs," Wong said.