Phone scammers tricked 11 Hongkongers out of more than HK$12 million over the Easter holiday, police said.
Pretending to be mainland officials, the fraudsters told their victims they were suspected of criminal offenses and needed to transfer money to mainland banks to prove their innocence. One victim lost HK$3.47 million and four others more than HK$1 million each after disclosing their mainland bank passwords to the conmen.
Chief inspector Tam Wai-shun of Kowloon East Regional Crime Unit said police received 171 reports of phone scams in the first quarter this year, and 127 of them involved monetary losses of more than HK$40.5 million in total.
More than half of the fraudsters claimed to be mainland officials in the phone scams; 23 percent used "guess who" to trick the victims and 22.8 percent asked the victims for ransom money saying family members had been detained.
Police said the number of reported phone scams last month increased significantly, to 108, nearly double the figure for the first two months this year.
One-third of reported cases in the first three months this year involved highly-educated victims aged below 30.
A University of Hong Kong student surnamed Guo, 26, lost 710,000 yuan (HK$801, 483) in a phone scam on Sunday.
Guo received a call from a woman claiming to be a mainland official and requesting her to remit money to a mainland bank account of the police in Shanghai.
Guo suspected she had been tricked and called the police yesterday.
Senior inspector Cheng Chak-yan said the scammers do not have specific targets. They call local residents randomly and people in different age groups can be tricked by fake stories.
"Police usually promote the message of preventing telephone deception on TV. Since young people need to work and go to school, they may not have time to watch TV. Police will also use social media to promote the message in the future," he said.
Police said the fraudsters have also started to use new technology, including a mobile app named "protect."
"In order to make their stories more credible and lower the guard of the victims, the fraudsters will ask the victims to remit all their assets in Hong Kong to their newly opened or currently in-use mainland bank accounts," Tam said.
"But at the same time, the fraudsters will ask the victims to input the bank passwords of their accounts on some bogus websites or mobile apps so that the fraudsters can read the passcodes on a third-party terminal with some remote-access software."
The police urge the public not to disclose bank passwords or passcodes and said the mainland government would never post arrest warrants online.
People should not fall for fraudsters' requests to remit money to prove their innocence and also be aware of calls with a prefix of "+852" as they may be calls from overseas fraudsters.