Hong Kong investment firm conned out of US$5.25 million when buying private jets in email scam

Clifford Lo

An investment company in Hong Kong was duped out of US$5.25 million (HK$41 million) when buying private jets to become the city’s latest victim of email fraud.

The firm was scammed this month while trying to pay a handling fee to its overseas business partner for a US$300 million aircraft deal, a law enforcement source told the Post.

“We believe the fraudster hacked into its business partner’s email account to study its history and monitor its business,” the source said.

“While the two companies were negotiating the payment of the handling fee, the swindler pretending to be the overseas business partner, sent a deceptive email to the Hong Kong firm, requesting money transfer to a bank account in Hong Kong [controlled by the scammer].”

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The company – which has an office in the city’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon West – has not been named.

The instruction was sent in the bogus email displaying an address similar to the business partner’s, before the investment firm transferred US$5.25 million to the bank account about 10 days ago, the source said.

The scam came to light last week when staff checked with the genuine business partner whether the transfer had gone through.

Its management executive reported the crime to police at about 7.30pm on Friday last week.

Officers from the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre were then tasked with tracking down the money.

The source said he believed it was this year’s biggest case of an email scam involving a local company.

Fraudsters swiped HK$2.5 billion in Hong Kong alone in 2019, according to police figures. Photo: Shutterstock

According to the latest police figures, cases of email fraud dropped 15.2 per cent to 888 in 2019, from 1,023 the year before, but the sums involved surged 47.8 per cent to HK$2.5 billion.

The Anti-Deception Coordination Centre, set up in July 2017 to pool police resources for tackling scams, stopped 1,174 payments to international fraudsters totalling more than HK$4.45 billion between July 2017 and December 2019.

Among the payments, HK$3 billion was intercepted by the anti-fraud officers in 2019, which was 1½ times the 2018 figure.

Victims included those living outside Hong Kong lured into fake romances and overseas companies cheated out of cash via email.

Local police were involved because the money was transferred to bank accounts in the city.

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Last April, email scammers impersonating a business partner tricked an investment firm in Uruguay into transferring US$18 million into two bank accounts in Hong Kong.

The firm’s staff later realised it was a scam and reported it to police through their lawyer in Hong Kong. City officers then froze the money in the bank accounts.

In Hong Kong, the number of deception cases dropped 1.9 per cent to 8,216 in 2019 from 8,372 in 2018, according to police.

Obtaining property by deception carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, while those convicted of money laundering face 14 years behind bars and a HK$5 million fine.

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