I have thirty million U.S. Dollars and seek your assistance and permission to remit this amount into your account. Your commission is 30%.
Sounds familiar? Well, thankfully emails from random Nigerian Princes, huge lottery wins or online overpayment scams seem less frequent these days. However, recently the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new wave of fraudulent schemes.
Opportunistic fraudsters exist in their numbers and will take advantage of new chances to scam individuals. Recent scams leveraging the fears and anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic provide proof of this. Remaining vigilant against such criminal activity comes through understanding the techniques that may be used against you. If you are unfortunate enough to be a victim of fraud, knowing how to respond could mitigate the situation substantially.
According to local media, in 2019 the Hong Kong Police intercepted over HK$3 billion in payments that were obtained as a result of internet and phone scams, a 150% increase from 2018. Despite increasing public awareness of fraud schemes conducted online or over the phone, it appears that this trend is not abating anytime soon; for one thing, the Internet is a perfect breeding ground for fraudsters, where they can reach out to large numbers of potential victims with relative ease. Below is a short list of the most common types of phone and internet scams in Hong Kong and a quick guide on what to do if you have fallen victim to a scam.
Common phone and internet scams
One of the most prevalent scams in Hong Kong is where scam artists make phone calls to victims while pretending to be from reputable organisations. They would accuse the victim of having been caught up in some illegal activity in Mainland China that requires payment of an alleged fine. Previously, fraudsters have posed as officers from the Immigration Department and the ICAC, or employees from a courier or telecommunications company. They will often transfer the call to an accomplice pretending to be a Mainland Chinese official, who will then attempt to convince the victim that the allegations are true. Another variant is where fraudsters pose as Mainland Chinese police, accuse the victim of breaking Mainland laws, and ask the victim to transfer money into their designated bank account as a surety during investigation.
Some scammers also pretend to be a relative, friend or business connection saying they are in urgent need of money. This could involve situations like being indebted, being detained by Mainland Chinese police, being hospitalized after an accident and much more. They will usually either ask you to put money into their account, give it to an accomplice or leave the money physically somewhere for them.
Another type of imposter scam we’ve recently seen an uptick of involves identity theft, where the fraudster hacks into the e-mail account of someone who regularly receives payment from the victim, such as a supplier of the victim’s business, and assumes their identity. The fraudster would inform the victim that the usual bank account for receiving payments cannot be used, citing various reasons, and ask the victim to transfer their payment(s) to an alternate account which belongs to the fraudster.
Investment scams are also common. Fraudsters often cold-call victims and persuade them to make various investments, which can range from gold contracts and high-yield bonds to investment funds that claim to offer high guaranteed returns. Victims might also be offered fake gifts or rebate benefits if they decide to open an account and invest within a prescribed period. In most cases, fraudsters will then attempt to induce the victims into entering contracts authorizing them to perform the trading on their behalf.
Scams arising out of COVID-19
Although this does not directly involve the transfer of money, scam artists have also taken advantage of the current pandemic by targeting persons under quarantine. They impersonate Department of Health workers making follow-up calls under the quarantine procedure, who then tell victims that there are anomalies regarding their health and require them to give their names, HKID numbers and bank account details to supposedly verify their identity. However, according to health officials, people under mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong are never requested to give their bank account details.
If I have fallen victim to a fraud scheme, can I get my money back?
The short answer is that it’s possible, but you will need to act swiftly since fraudsters will often move the money to different accounts (or even to a different country) to make tracing more difficult.
If you’ve been the victim of a fraud scheme and believe your money has not left Hong Kong (or, if you’re located overseas, know that your money has been transferred to Hong Kong), the first thing you want to do, even if it sounds obvious, is to make a police report. The police have the power to issue letters of “no consent” to a bank if they suspect the account in question has been involved in a fraud scheme or money laundering operation. While a “no consent” only means that the police do not consent to the operation of the account and is not a freezing order per se, the bank will almost always comply with it and suspend all transactions.
The police, however, don’t always act immediately. If there is a large amount of money at stake and an imminent risk that it will be transferred out of Hong Kong, you can consider going to Court to obtain a civil injunction to freeze the account. Substantial legal fees are usually involved, so it’s best to consult your lawyer to ensure that doing so is worth the cost.
Once the defrauded money has been frozen, the next step is to recover it. The police won’t do this for you, and if no action is taken after an extended period the money will be confiscated for the government, so you will need to take the recovery steps yourself. Generally, this is done with a Court claim and, once a judgment is issued, garnishing the fraudster’s bank account. Again, your lawyer can walk you through the process.
To sum up
Fraud schemes, such as phone and internet scams, are ever-evolving; scammers are always looking for new ways to make a quick buck off an unsuspecting victim, and their methods are getting more sophisticated with time.
If you were the unfortunate victim of a fraud scheme, speed is of the essence if you want to recover your money, and literally every second counts! We recommend contacting your bank or your financial service provider and seeking urgent professional advice, especially if a large amount is at stake.
This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and readers should not regard this article as a substitute for detailed advice in individual instances.