About 300 Hong Kong men seeking sex services lost nearly HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) in just six months, to swindlers posing as foreign women studying in the city, prompting police to issue a scam alert.
Over the past three months, there were at least 12 reports of “compensated dating” scams in which the victims were instructed to pay in bitcoin, up from only three in the first three months of this year. Compensated dating is a disguised form of prostitution in which one person pays another for companionship and often sex.
One source admitted it was “difficult to trace swindled money that was paid in virtual currencies such as bitcoin”.
There has been a surge in the number of compensated dating scams locally.
Between January and June this year, police handled an average of about 50 reports of the scams each month, up on the monthly average of 35 in the same period last year.
The average monthly amount lost to the scams also increased, at HK$1.6 million this year from HK$1 million in the same period last year.
In the whole of last year, teachers, doctors, lawyers and government employees were among more than 450 men who had fallen into the trap and lost HK$15 million in total. One of them was duped out of about HK$870,000 in more than 10 transactions in a month.
The recent pattern prompted the force’s anti-scam unit to issue the alert last Friday, warning the public to be wary of the swindle.
“Have you made a new friend online recently? If the friend offered to hang out with you, but in the meanwhile requested you buy game point cards or bitcoin for her before dating, it is probably a scam,” the force said on its website.
Police reminded the public to be “cautious when making friends on social media, and remain vigilant when you receive any request for money transactions or buying game point cards or bitcoin”.
The source believed a new fraud syndicate, based somewhere in Asia, was behind most of this year’s cases. This gang surfaced after Hong Kong and mainland Chinese police broke up another syndicate in a joint operation earlier this year.
According to police, con artists used photos of young and attractive Asian women to make fake profiles on instant messaging platforms such as WeChat, to befriend targets.
Fraudsters claimed to be students from Japan, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, working as part-time compensated dating girls. Victims were instructed to pay in advance before any meeting was arranged. Police said no one showed up to meet the victims afterwards.
“In some cases, the so-called compensated dating girl told victims that she was locked up by a pimp and unable to go out. She begged the victim to help her pay more money so she could be freed,” another source said.
He said fraudsters also coaxed targets into revealing personal information, with which they could blackmail them. Victims were asked to send a copy of their identity card through the app to prove they were not undercover police officers. Scammers then extorted them by threatening to reveal their demand for sexual services to their family members or friends. “That is why some victims lost hundreds of thousands dollars,” the source said.