Fake customer service fraud causes HK$157 million loss in first 4 months of 2024

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29th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s police force has reported a worrying increase in fraud cases involving fake customer service representatives in the first half of the year. Perpetrators, masquerading as customer service agents from popular online platforms like Taobao, have employed intimidation and deception to extract substantial amounts of money from victims.

One notable case involved a 69-year-old Hong Kong resident, Mr. Ma, who lost HK$440,000 to fraudsters claiming to be from Taobao. The scammers initially contacted him to inform him that he had purchased a five-year membership for Taobao Tmall, which he hadn’t, and demanded HK$2,000 as payment. The situation escalated during an eight-hour video call, during which Mr. Ma was coerced into making numerous transactions to a bogus bank account to resolve a non-existent account freeze.

The fraudsters exploit non-working days to contact victims, making it impossible for them to verify the claims through their banks immediately. During interactions, they don sophisticated attire and adopt professional demeanours to appear credible, manipulating victims through continuous video calls without breaks, leading some, like Mr. Ma, to the brink of mental exhaustion.

During one eight-hour session, Mr. Ma was forced to make transaction after transaction under intense pressure, a tactic that left him nearly mentally broken. The scammers insisted that he had purchased a membership and that even if he wished to cancel, the fees for five years of membership were still due.

The fraudsters further deceived Mr. Ma by instructing him to visit a fictional ‘Economic Network Mediation Centre’ located in Shanghai to resolve the issue. When he doubted their claims and hung up, they persistently called him back and eventually pressured him through a video call pretending to be from the centre.

During the video call, a man dressed in a business suit falsely claimed to be handling his case and demanded Mr. Ma’s banking and credit card information to ‘resolve’ his membership fees. The scam culminated in threats that his bank account would be frozen and that he would need to fly to Shanghai to unlock it unless he transferred money immediately.

These incidents are part of a larger trend, with the police recording 468 cases of similar fraud in the first four months of the year alone, marking a significant rise from previous periods. The total losses from these scams amounted to HK$157 million, a staggering figure that highlights the severity of the issue.

A spokesperson from Hong Kong Police highlighted that another victim, a 70-year-old female insurance broker, was defrauded of HK$4.16 million, making it the largest loss recorded this year. The fraudsters employed similar tactics, initially claiming issues with the victim’s Taobao account before freezing her bank account and coercing her into transferring large sums of money.

The spokesperson urged the public to remain vigilant and sceptical of unsolicited customer service calls, especially those instructing them to perform transactions outside official platforms or provide private banking information. She recommends using tools like the “CyberDefender,” “Scameter + App,” or calling the anti-fraud hotline at 18222 to verify suspicious contacts.

In response to these scams, a spokesperson from Taobao Hong Kong reassured customers that legitimate customer service would only contact them through official channels and that customers should verify any suspicious communication by contacting their official numbers directly.