A syndicate that duped 48 women and a 77-year-old man out of 29.5 million Hong Kong dollars ($3.78 million) in Hong Kong in online romance scams was busted last week.
The syndicate, based in Kuala Lumpur, had been tricking Hongkongers since January. Victims include a lawyer, teachers and doctors, most of whom are around 40 to 50 years old.
According to the South China Morning Post, the alleged ringleader of the syndicate is one of two Nigerian men, a Nigerian woman and an Indian woman arrested in a Kuala Lumpur raid on Oct. 24. They allegedly sought targets from online dating platforms.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong police arrested five women — initial scam targets — whose bank accounts may have been used to transfer the scammed cash to accounts in Malaysia and Taiwan. Scammers allegedly used their accounts as filters after failing to victimize them.
After 20 transactions, the syndicate’s biggest loser is a senior executive who paid 6 million Hong Kong dollars ($769,000) to a scammer who posed as a British engineer. Those transactions were carried out in a span of six months.
A police source said (via SCMP):
“The scammer, disguised as an engineer from the UK, befriended her via an online dating platform in January. He claimed he ran into financial problems and needed money urgently and then borrowed money from the victim.”
The victim realized that it was all a joke after losing contact with the “engineer” in June.
The oldest victim is a 77-year-old man, who was tricked into shelling out 4,500 Hong Kong dollars ($577) for an “American woman.”
In response to the scheme, Hui Yee-wai, chief inspector of Hong Kong’s cybersecurity crime bureau, warned love-seekers that people they meet online “might not be who you think they are.” She also urged them to keep their privacy settings in check.
Romance scams are booming worldwide. In the U.S., nearly 15,000 complaints were filed to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) last year. Losses amounted to more than $230 million, according to the FBI. Most of the victims were from California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.