Nine arrested over alleged online love scams

Police said on Friday that they had arrested nine people in connection with online love scams targeting men.

Officers said the suspects were four males and five females aged between 15 and 69.

They were arrested in various districts on Wednesday and Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

The force said the arrestees include the mastermind of the group, five core members, and three people who held stooge accounts.

Police said they believed the suspects belong to a syndicate which cheated more than HK$10 million from at least 35 men, aged 20 to 37, between August 2020 and January this year.

In one case, a 35-year-old man was cheated out of HK$2.1 million, officers said.

Chief Inspector Ng Kei-chun from the Commercial Crime Bureau said the fraudsters pretended to be Hongkongers working overseas when they first approached the victims via dating apps, and would develop a romantic relationship with them – sometimes within days after they met online – before asking for money.

“For example, they would claim that they cannot return to Hong Kong as they have contracted Covid-19 in some Southeast Asian country and have used all their money. They requested the victims to lend them money for their daily expenses,” he said.

He added that some victims had been cheated again afterwards.

“The fraudsters would disguise as colleagues of that female, claiming that the company would repay the debts on the behalf of the female. However, they would ask the victim to pay a certain amount of remittance fee before they can get the money from the company. The victim fell prey again to these excuses and transferred money to the stooge accounts again.”

Ng said some scammers were acting as “girlfriends” of the victims, while others served as “assisting actors” or helped to fake documents and handle crime proceeds.

Police said the group had rent a luxurious two-storey home in Ho Man Tin where they lived and conducted their illegal activities.

Officers said they seized some cash, a few luxury watches, and a large number of mobile phones, computers, fake name cards, and some scripts containing dialogue which the scammers might have used to cheat the victims.

Superintendent Lau Kai-pang said there had been a clear rising trend in online love scams, with the number of cases increasing over 80 percent from 905 in 2020 to 1,659 last year.

The amount of money cheated out of these scams also rose from around HK$210 million to nearly HK$600 million during the period.

Lau said swindlers had taken advantage of people’s increased use of the internet during the pandemic.