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Friday, December 16, 2016, 13:19

Police bust international dating scam syndicate

By Shadow Li and Luis Liu

HONG KONG - Police on Friday announced they have busted an international syndicate that masterminded online dating scams , cheating victims out of HK$60 million.

The gang was the biggest of similar groups targeting Hong Kong women amid a significant increase of online dating scams in recent years, according to the police.

Hong Kong alone was victim to 73 online dating scams out of 86 plotted by the syndicate involving a loss of HK$58 million

In an unprecedented joint operation, the Hong Kong police acted in tandem with law enforcement authorities in Malaysia and Nigeria.

The action in early December involved raids on seven places and seizure of 10 laptops and other evidence. It led to the arrest of 14 people in Malaysia, including two kingpins – a 36-year-old Nigerian man and a 46-year-old Malaysian woman.

Hong Kong alone was victim to 73 online dating scams out of 86 plotted by the syndicate involving a loss of HK$58 million. The victims, mostly highly educated women, are aged between 25 and 73.

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Among them the biggest loser was a middle-aged professional from Hong Kong. The woman was scammed out of HK$9.1 million before she reported the case to police earlier this year, according to Superintendent Lam Cheuk-ho from the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau of the police.

The woman got to know the scammer through an online dating platform last summer. She found out she had been cheated and sought police help nine months later, Lam said.

According to the victim profile presented by police, 6 percent are highly educated professionals, comfortable in the use of English and tech-savvy.

Police revealed online dating scams have been picking up in recent years , with a loss of HK$130 million involving 181 cases recorded between 2014 and October 2016. In the first 10 months of this year alone, police responded to about 90 cases – more than double those in 2015.

The con artists would intensely research prospective victims first. Then, they established contact posing as Western bankers or entrepreneurs working in Southeast Asia. After earning the trust of victims, they would think up ruses such as pending tax or customs payments and ask the victims to bail them out by remitting money to bank accounts in Malaysia. When the money arrived, they would simply disappear, according to the police.

Police also warned the public not to share personal information on social media.

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