Nine people were arrested for cheating over HK$10 million from at least 35 men in romance scams, where the fraudsters pretended to be local women stranded overseas who were in dire need of financial assistance after catching Covid.
The nine arrestees included four men and five women aged 15 to 69. One was the syndicate’s mastermind, followed by five members and three stooge account holders. They were arrested for conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Police continued that the operation codenamed Starhunt is ongoing, and more arrests may be made.
According to chief inspector Ng Kei-chun, the crimes occurred between August 2020 and January this year. Fraudsters first pretended to be Hong Kong women who were working overseas and met the victims, aged 20 to 37, through various online dating apps.
After they developed a “romantic relationship” with the victims, they would ask them for money using different excuses, including that they caught Covid-19 in Southeast Asia countries and could not return to the city.
As the victims wired the money into the fraudsters’ accounts, the other fraudsters would approach the victims, pretending to be the colleagues of their “online girlfriends” with fake documents and name cards.
They claimed they would repay the debts to the victims for their “girlfriends” but asked the victims to pay a certain amount as a guarantee, gaining the victims’ trust with more false documents and cheating more money.
A 35-year-old man even lost up to HK$2.1 million in one single case, according to police.
Superintendent Ivan Lau Kai-pang added that the proceeds of the crime were then kept by a 69-year-old, and the syndicate even used the money to buy a luxurious complex apartment in Ho Man Tin as their headquarters and hire drivers.
Police seized some HK$600,000 cash, six luxury wristwatches, a significant number of phones, computers, and checkbooks that belong to others after raiding the Ho Man Tin flat. Officers even found scripts written for fraudsters to pretend to be victims’ girlfriends.
Senior inspector Cheung Man-hon called on citizens to confirm the identity of the people they meet on the internet first when being asked for money. He also suggested asking suspected fraudsters for video chat instead of phone calls and searching their social media photos on the internet.
Citizens who believe they are cheated of money in romance scams can dial the anti-scam helpline 18222, Cheung noted.