International fraudsters are playing off the fame of Hong Kong celebrities in a new investment scam that has prompted local police to issue a public warning.
The Post was told on Thursday that 15 Hongkongers had been bilked out of nearly HK$2.5 million (US$319,000) in the celebrity scam in an 11-day span.
The biggest victim was a 43-year-old woman who was conned out of HK$360,000, according to police. “She was enticed into disclosing her credit card details and one-time password and unauthorised transactions were subsequently made,” a police source said.
A police spokesman said the details of the scam were discovered through an intelligence exchange with industry stakeholders and from related victim reports starting early this month.
The swindlers pose as financial gurus on Facebook and other social media platforms to lure their targets. According to police, the con artists claim famous Hong Kong artists and musicians had become rich through their investment plans, which sometimes include bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading.
“The swindlers impersonate investment consultants from overseas investment companies and they are English speakers who contact victims by phone,” a police source said.
He said the telephone numbers of the fraudsters were from other countries, including Britain, but officers had yet to determine where the scammers were in operation.
People who click on the advertisements are taken to a website and instructed to use a credit card to register. The next day they received overseas calls from fake investment company employees.
The Hong Kong police website said: “Fraudsters call in English and ask victims to provide more personal information, including credit card CVV codes and identity card numbers.”
Victims received a verification code via SMS purportedly sent by the company to authorise for a credit card payment. Then they are asked to provide the code for identity verification.
The fraudsters use the credit card information and verification code to transfer money into designated bank accounts. Police said no investments were ever made.
“The amount of money the victims lost ranges from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars each,” another police source said.
Victims usually realised it was a scam when they noticed their credit card debt and were unable to contact the bogus investment consultants.
The police warned the public against providing a one-time password for credit card payments.
“If you are in doubt about the SMS confirmation for related transactions, you should call the credit card centre straight away,” the police website said.
“If in doubt, please call [the anti-scam helpline] 18222 immediately.”
According to official statistics, police handled 3,855 reports of fraud in the first six months of 2019, up five per cent from 3,671 in the same period in 2018.