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[SCMP] ‘Hollowed hearts’: Hong Kong women left emotionally devastated and financially ruined by swindlers posing as Western professionals

18 Apr 2016 7:46 AM | Anonymous

‘Hollowed hearts’: Hong Kong women left emotionally devastated and financially ruined by swindlers posing as Western professionals

In the first two months of this year, 16 cases involving HK$16 million have been reported – already half the number for the whole of 2015.

UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 8:27am

More women in Hong Kong are losing millions of dollars by falling prey to love scams through dating apps and social media – most of them featuring swindlers posing as successful Western professionals.

Hong Kong police recorded 62 cases last year, compared with 29 in 2014 and 23 in 2013. A total of HK$32 million was pocketed by swindlers last year – triple the amount in 2013. Most of the money was transferred to Malaysia and the mainland, and never recovered.

Some 90 per cent of the victims were women with tertiary education – 40 per cent of them white collar workers and the rest from professional and service industries. The most vulnerable were aged between 30 and 40.

In the first two months of this year, 16 such cases involving HK$16 million were reported –

already half the number for the whole of 2015.

Jennifer Choi, a 38-year-old victim, told the Posthow she was conned out of more than HK$200,000 by her “British lover” in March last year. The ordeal left her depressed and dependent on medication, but the mother of two did not make a police complaint. “It does not heal the wounds in my heart anyway,” she said.

Choi met “Matt” through a dating app after she divorced in late 2014. “He made me really happy and helped me come out from the trauma,” the interior designer said.

They started chatting round the clock every day through text messages. Choi quickly fell in love, believing him to be a 40-year-old businessman from Bristol.

Although they had never met, she transferred thousands of

British pounds to Matt on three occasions when he claimed his bank accounts were frozen. He even “proposed” four months later, claiming to have sent Choi a parcel with an engagement ring.

“I then received a call from a courier in the Philippines saying the parcel was detained, and I was asked to pay HK$100,000 in tax,” Choi recalled.

Matt disappeared after the tax was cleared and so did the ring.

Chief inspector Gary Tsang Chun-kit from the Commercial Crime Bureau highlighted a single case in 2014, when a career woman was conned out of HK$9 million in more than 30 transactions.

Tsang said scammers stole random profile pictures online and posed as Caucasian professionals in Southeast Asia, mostly contractors, on dating apps.

When targeting victims, the swindlers studied their personal preferences listed in their social media profiles to strike up a friendship and get close to them.

“After capturing the victims’ hearts, the scammers started using trouble at work as an excuse and asked victims for thousands of dollars to test their financial power,” Tsang said.

“It was all scripted. The love stories always ended with the scammers claiming they would fly to Hong Kong to marry the victims, but the grooms got stuck somewhere during the journey and asked for big sums of money to pay off the authorities.”

There were no video chats that could have allowed the victims to scrutinise their “lovers”, as the fraudsters made excuses such as having unstable internet connections or being too busy with work, to brush off such requests.

“Scammers eyed highly educated women as they speak better English and are financially equipped,”Tsang said. “Love is blind. The victims were too devoted [to their false lovers] despite repeated warnings from their families. The scams left the ladies devastated not because the money was gone, but their hearts were hollowed out.”


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