The Dark Side of the Internet: Online Fraud and Scams in Hong Kong

The Dark Side of the Internet: Online Fraud and Scams in Hong Kong

by December 2, 2022

In recent years, Hong Kong has become a hotbed for online scams and crime, with many citizens falling for new and creative ways that defraud their money and sometimes their life savings. 

Fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to exploit the system and take advantage of unsuspecting victims. While the online world has brought many benefits, it has created new opportunities for scammers.

This is seen in the number of cybercrime cases, which rose to 14,160 involving HK$2.04 billion this year, up from 10,185 and HK$1.93 billion in losses over the same period last year.

Chris Tang Ping-keun on online scams

Chris Tang Ping-keun

Secretary for Security of Hong Kong Chris Tang Ping-keung said during a Legco meeting that the number of fraud cases in the city has been on the rise in the past five years, having increased by 1.3 times to over 19,000 cases in 2021 from 8,300 recorded in 2018. 

“Over 70 percent of the cases logged this year are online scams, with some 45 percent being shopping scams,” he added.

Even being labeled as “the most crypto-ready nation” could not stop Hong Kong’s crypto-scams from hiking 105 percent in 2022 compared to 2021. 

In the Worldwide Crypto Readiness Report, the island scored 8.6 out of 10 in terms of being lucrative for the crypto sector. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that 798 out of 10,613 cybercrimes are crypto-related, with the Hong Kong crypto community losing HK$391 million (US$50 million) in 2022.

Scamming the “smart” with online scams 

Police figures have shown that nearly HK$29 billion (US$3.72 billion) were conned from more than 10,100 victims of internet, phone, and investment scams in Hong Kong and abroad through local bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets over the past four and a half years. 

Common perceptions of victims of scams are that they are less educated, have low awareness of daily events, and are more susceptible to strangers. But victims now come from all levels of society, from educated students to university professors and doctors. 

SCMP reported that a university student was conned of HK$270,000 in just days when she took up a part-time job improving the software for a tech company but ended up paying money to the website to “withdraw her commission.”

Crypto investment scams

With crypto investments being hailed as supposedly recession-proof investments, many bought into supposedly new crypto schemes. According to Chainalysis, scammers took HK$60.22 billion (US$7.7 billion) worth of cryptocurrency from victims worldwide.

Cryptocurrency Scams

Total Yearly Cryptocurrency Value received by scammers. Source: Chainalysis

Meanwhile, online investment fraud in Hong Kong accounted for HK$540 million of all online scams, more than the HK$472 million lost last year. This is largely attributed to an increase in crypto-related scams.

The local police have said that cryptocurrency crimes fall into three categories: using cryptocurrency for money laundering, online shopping fraud, where buyers or sellers may be robbed during face-to-face transactions, or investment scams, where sellers disappear after taking a victim’s money.

A doctor lost HK$5 million last year after being persuaded to invest in a new cryptocurrency. In comparison, a 30-year-old man lost HK$124 million in one of Hong Kong’s biggest crypto scams to date, buying into cryptocurrency sold by “a group of consultants” and was left to dry after the currency’s devaluation.

Meanwhile, a listed company’s president reported that she lost HK$16.6 million (USD 2.11 million) to a fake investment app, which she used believing she was investing in Ethereum and Tether.

“Deception victims are deceived into transferring cryptocurrency to the e-wallets provided by culprits directly,” said the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre (ADCC) of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF).

 “In some cases, it is observed that the scammers have used the deceived money to purchase cryptocurrency with the purpose to launder the crime proceeds. Cryptocurrency enables a much easier and faster cross-border transaction, said the ADCC.

Heightened alert and countermeasures

The Hong Kong Police have set up a search engine called “Scameter”, where people can search for information when they receive suspicious calls or messages. The meter’s color indicates the level of risks, with red indicating “high risk” and purple meaning “no record” found. However, they warn that purple does not mean it is risk-free and encourage people to check their digital footprints and take responsibility.

HK Police set up Scameter to prevent online scams

HK Police set up Scameter. Source: The Standard.

In addition to having an anti-scam hotline,” 18222,” since 2017 that offers support 24/7, the ADCC of the Hong Kong Police Force launched a subscription service in October 2022 called “Scam Alert Subscription.” 

This allows the public to subscribe to themselves to receive new scam alerts concerning the latest defrauding tricks to their email. A new Digital Forensics Complex is in the works, expecting to debut in 2023, using IT forensic and digital evidence tracing.

Enforcers and the public have a joint responsibility to ensure cybercrimes do not go unpunished and untraced and collectively have a proactive approach to prevent cybercrimes. 

With the potential pandemic reemerging and the new norm digitising almost every aspect of life, the need to co-exist with cybercrimes is more evident than ever.


Featured image credit: Edited from Unsplash and Freepik