Coronavirus: Hong Kong mask panic a boon for online scammers, as more than 100 residents tell police they were hoodwinked

Danny Mok
·2-min read

Police have warned the public to beware of scammers offering surgical masks online after receiving complaints from more than 100 people who say they were cheated out of more than HK$500,000 in the past few weeks.

“Since late January this year, there have been scammers making fraudulent claims through online shopping platforms [advertising] surgical masks for sale, taking advantage of [Hong Kong’s] tight supply,” a police statement read, adding that scammers typically disappear after receiving prepayments.

According to the statement, the force had received 109 relevant reports, worth a total of HK$580,000 (US$75,000), as of February 5.

Six men and two women have been arrested for obtaining property by deception, with one charged so far. Police said they believed more arrests were likely.

Hongkongers desperate for masks have turned to dubious online sources, with more than 100 saying they have been scammed. Photo: May Tse
Hongkongers desperate for masks have turned to dubious online sources, with more than 100 saying they have been scammed. Photo: May Tse

The news came as panicked Hongkongers have thronged dispensaries across the city looking for protective gear, amid a regional shortfall created by the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Several district councillors on Sunday said they had been flooded with complaints about mask scams, with about 1,000 people approaching them for help, saying they had been scammed out of more than HK$800,000. Nearly half that total came from a single case involving 700 victims, the councillors said.

Police urged online shoppers to find out more about sellers’ credibility before conducting online transactions, and to stick to online trading systems with identity authentication to reduce the chance of being swindled.

Give street cleaners masks or risk them walking off the job, Hong Kong warned

If in doubt about sellers’ identities, police said they should abort the transaction and call the force’s anti-scam helpline.

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