How student scammed woman, 90, out of $250 million

Top News | Erin Chan 21 Apr 2021

Hong Kong's just-revealed, biggest-ever phone scam involves a 19-year-old university student and others allegedly conning a 90-year-old Peak woman out of more than HK$250 million by posing as a mainland official.

Wong, a freshman at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was arrested for obtaining property by deception in Tin Shui Wai on March 25 but was freed on bail after being questioned on condition he reports to them at the end of the month.

He first called the victim in August last year, posing as a Chinese government official, saying her personal information was used for committing an offense in the mainland.

Wong rattled off the victim's full name, ID card number and phone number to suggest he was a well-connected mainland official.

He also told the woman that authorities needed to check if her bank account was used for money laundering, which would require her to deposit sums into specific bank accounts.

Wong told her the money would be returned once the investigation was completed this May.

Days later Wong arrived at the women's detached house on Plunkett's Road on the Peak, where she lives with two maids and a chauffeur, and handed her a cellphone to maintain contact.

Then, on August 12, the woman was told to deposit HK$7.9 million into Wong's bank account.

Between August 13 and January 4 she was instructed to deposit HK$247 million into two other bank accounts in 10 transactions.

On one occasion the woman asked her chauffeur to drive her to a bank in Central, where she met with Wong to carry out a money transfer.

A bank staffer handling the transfer initially felt suspicious as a huge sum was involved but proceeded with the transaction after the woman claimed it was for her to purchase property on the Peak. It was only on March 2 after her daughter became involved that the woman suspected she was caught in a scam.

The daughter was alerted by one of her mother's maids about Wong calling.

And the daughter sent relatives to check on her mother transferring money from the bank, though she did not report to police immediately.

Sources also said the woman appeared to have been a victim of a scam involving others besides Wong.

Police, who froze around HK$9 million in bank accounts, appealed to citizens to pay attention to family members, especially the elderly,to prevent them from falling victim to phone scams.

"If [the daughter] could have asked the victim for more details the scam would not have happened," police said yesterday.

In a similar case, 16 victims, including an elderly woman, were cheated out of HK$130 million in phone scams involving people posing as mainland officials and "guess who?" swindlers, with 11 arrested.

Guess who? cases involve scammers asking people to guess their identity and then impersonating relatives or friends.

The 11 suspects- six women and five men aged from 21 to 77, were arrested for obtaining property by deception between April 13 and 15.

One of the suspects, a 77-year-old man who had himself been a victim of a phone-based swindle last year, was involved in seven phone scams involving him pretending to be a mainland government official.

He first called victims then door-stepped them or took them to banks to set up online bank accounts to pocket proceeds.

The 16 scams were committed between May 12 last year and March 15 this year. The victims were 11 woman and five men aged from 15 to 83, with retirees, housewives and students among them cheated. A woman in her 60s lost up to HK$68.9 million.

Police said 200 phone scams were recorded in the first quarter of this year, up 18 percent on the corresponding period in 2020.

Lost money rose seven times to HK$353 million this year from HK$54 million during the three months last year.

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