Elderly targeted in security law scams

Local | Erin Chan 3 May 2021

Scammers are cashing in on fears of the national security law by telling people their phone numbers are being used to spread messages advocating Hong Kong independence.

In one such scam, an elderly woman, Chan, was nearly conned out of HK$9 million life savings.

The lucky escape came with a vigilant bank employee warning her and alerting the police.

The attempted scam began with Chan receiving calls from someone posing as a telecommunications company employee who claimed someone was using her Hong Kong identity card details to register a new number for a phone that had been used to spread Hong Kong independence messages.

The scammer then put her through to another person posing as a public security officer from Changsha, Hunan.

The "officer" then informed Chan that her bank account was being used to launder money in the mainland and that to help authorities investigate the case, she was told to transfer her HK$9 million savings to the "officer's" bank account.

She was also asked to buy a new mobile phone so she could contact the "officer."

Chan expressed reluctance to make the transfer for fear of bank penalties involved in withdrawing money from fixed deposits early.

But the scammer convinced her by transferring HK$30,000 to her existing bank account to cover the penalties and also offered her HK$10,000 to buy a new phone to maintain contact. 

That's when the bank intervened.

"A bank staffer said I might have fallen for a scam as I was about to transfer the money. The staffer called the police's regional crime prevention East region," Chan said.

She said she initially fell for the scam because the "telecoms staff" was able to rattle off her personal information.

Police said it was rare for phone scam pepetrators to deposit money to the bank account of victims, and suspected the money to be from another victim. 

In another case, a 65-year-old retiree was less fortunate.

In August, the Sha Tin resident received a call from a scammer posing as a mainland official, saying she had breached the national security law.

She was then asked to transfer money to the scammer's bank account and surrender the login details of her online bank account so as to prove her innocence.

Between September and October, the scammer siphoned off HK$2.2 million.

She lodged a police report in October and police managed to prevent the transfer of another HK$100,000.

Police said 122 phone scams were recorded in the first two months of this year - a 31.2 percent rise year on year.

Of 1,193 phone scams last year, 15 involved scammers posing as mainland officials and telling victims they had breached the national security law.

Regional crime unit of Kowloon east chief inspector Jack Mok Tsz-wai said that of phone scams involving people posing as mainland officials last year, a third of the victims were aged 60 or above.

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