Seven mainland Chinese residents entering Hong Kong illegally are among a gang of suspected swindlers who have been arrested on suspicion of cheating local women out of more than HK$2 million (US$258,000) in roadside blessing scams.
The commercial crime bureau began investigating the syndicate after noticing a rise in the number of spiritual blessing scams last year.
According to the force, the number of such cases doubled to 32 in 2020 from 15 in 2019. The amount involved also rose 212 per cent to HK$7.5 million last year from HK$2.4 million the year before.
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The gang – involving three men and five women – was picked up when officers raided their hideout in a Sham Shui Po flat on Thursday. One of the women is a local resident, while the other seven came to the city from the mainland illegally.
During the operation, one of the men resisted arrest and injured an officer before being subdued, according to police.
Senior Inspector Cheung Man-hon of the commercial crime bureau said police believed the gang ran blessing scams in various parts of the city between October last year and March this year and duped 11 Hongkongers out of HK$2.1 million.
“All the victims are women aged between 54 and 80. The amount of money they lost ranged from HK$60,000 to HK$360,000,” he said, adding the victims were either retirees or housewives.
The eight suspects, aged between 45 and 57, were arrested in connection with various offences such as obtaining property by deception, remaining in the city illegally, aiding and abetting others to stay in Hong Kong unlawfully, or resisting arrest.
As of midday on Friday, they were still being held for questioning and had not been charged.
Spiritual blessing gangs target mainly elderly people, with fraudsters usually working in groups and approaching victims when they are alone.
Victims are told that they or their family members are in bad luck and will fall sick, but a powerful religious master could hold a rite to help them get rid of their misfortune.
They are then persuaded during the ritual to put money and jewellery into a bag. During the session, the bag carrying the cash and valuables is swapped with another bag of the same design that contains no valuables. Victims only realised they had fallen prey to the scam when they returned home and open the bags.
Cheung said residents should warn their elderly family members to stay vigilant against such tactics and call the 24-hour anti-scam helpline at 18222 if required.
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