Hong Kong shopping scams tripled in 2020, with more than HK$74 million conned from mask buyers

Christy Leung
·4-min read

The number of shopping scams in Hong Kong for 2020 tripled from the previous year, with con artists duping mask buyers out of more than HK$74 million (US$9.5 million).

Revealing the figures on Tuesday, Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung said the recent proposal by authorities for compulsory SIM-card registration could help officers crack down on such scams, as up to 80 per cent of culprits used untraceable prepaid phone cards.

The overall number of crimes reported in 2020 rose by 6.8 per cent to 63,232, while the total detection rate increased slightly by 0.7 per cent, to 37.8 per cent, Tang told the Legislative Council.

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Criminals now turn online to commit offences which are harder for us to detect

Commissioner of Police Chris Tang

Among all categories, a significant rise was recorded for deception cases, which nearly doubled from 8,216 in 2019 to 15,553 in 2020. Tang attributed the jump to an uptick in online shopping frauds, which tripled from 2,194 cases to 6,678 over the year.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more people tended to stay home and access the internet. Criminals now turn online to commit offences which are harder for us to detect,” Tang told lawmakers, adding that the detection rate for deception dropped from 13.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent.

“The compulsory SIM-card registration can definitely help us trace suspects in many crimes, such as deception, violent offences and doxxing.”

Mask scam preying on coronavirus desperation cons seven people out of HK$3 million

Online mask scams emerged as a new form of e-shopping fraud as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the city last year. A police source said a total of 2,538 cases were recorded with losses amounting to HK$74 million, accounting for more than 56 per cent of the overall increase in this scam category.

Tang also said the fourfold surge in losses to phone scammers and a sixfold increase in naked-chat blackmail cases remained a cause of concern.

Last year, the number of phone scams almost doubled to 1,193 from 648 in 2019, with victims cheated out of HK$424.8 million. Reported naked-chat blackmails also went up from 171 to 1,009 in 2020, making up 72 per cent of the overall 1,399 blackmail cases in 2020, compared with 355 in 2019.

Last week, the government proposed to regulate all Hong Kong mobile phone users, requiring real names and personal details for registration. Officials blamed criminals for exploiting the current system as 70 per cent of offenders involved in serious crimes such as murder, robbery, burglary and drugs relied on prepaid cards.

Violent crimes, on the contrary, decreased by 3.1 per cent to 9,391 last year, with Tang saying the decrease in protest-related offences dropped significantly after the enactment of the national security law in June last year, and with deterrent sentences in court.

Online mask scams emerged as a new form of e-shopping fraud as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the city last year. Photo: Shutterstock
Online mask scams emerged as a new form of e-shopping fraud as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the city last year. Photo: Shutterstock

So far police have arrested 10,200 people since the anti-government movement broke out in June 2019, and prosecuted about 24 per cent of them. Among 940 people who had completed legal procedures, 80 per cent face legal consequences with jail terms of up to 5½ years.

Figures showed that the number of offences related to public order and possession of unlawful instruments dropped by 71.7 per cent and 54.7 per cent last year, respectively. Arson cases were reduced by half, while reports of possession of an offensive weapon and criminal damage decreased by 23.2 per cent and 14.4 per cent, respectively.

Con artists swindle thousands of Hongkongers in face mask scams totalling HK$48 million

The police chief stressed he attached great importance to officers’ integrity after 45 were arrested last year for various offences, up from 24 in 2019.

Tang revealed that in the coming financial year, the force would buy several smaller water cannon vehicles that would better fit the narrow roads in Hong Kong.

He also said he was honoured to have received the director of the central government’s liaison office, Luo Huining, who visited the police headquarters over the weekend, saying it reflected Beijing’s support for the police.

Overall, 842 crimes were reported for every 100,000 people in Hong Kong last year, of which 125 cases were violent, compared with 789 crimes and 129 cases respectively in 2019. Among other increases in crimes, robbery cases jumped 25.7 per cent to 264, while reports of rape surged by 14 cases from 50 to 64. Serious drug offences climbed by 55.3 per cent to 1,149 last year.

Also in 2020, a total of 9,750 public order events were held, including 9,498 rallies and 252 processions, representing an overall drop of 14.7 per cent from 11,436 in 2019. Tang said the fewer number of gatherings might be attributable to the pandemic.

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