23rd November 2023 – (Hong Kong) A recent law enforcement operation by Hong Kong police targeted online sextortion scams, leading to the arrests of 30 suspects implicated in HK$2 million worth of fraud cases.
The 22-day sting focused on takedowns of compensated dating and nude chat blackmail schemes. In total, 37 cases were solved across the city’s districts, with victims including 36 men and one woman aged 18 to 70.
According to police, sextortion tactics are evolving. Some fraud rings now make small hotel reservations under mule identities to lend credence to their cons, detectives said. The bookings at select Tsim Sha Tsui hotels aimed to convince prospective marks that compensated dating services were legitimate.
Investigators faced obstacles in tracking culprits down. Due to the intimate nature of the scams, victims tend to immediately erase evidence out of shame or embarrassment. And as individual losses ranged from HK$500 to HK$550,000, police say low dollar amounts depressed reporting rates.
The prevalence of young male victims also concerned law enforcement. Approximately 40% of those targeted were men aged 22 to 30. Minors made up another 30% of the victim pool, spanning Form 1 to university senior levels.
Recognising the trend of younger victims, Hong Kong police aim to collaborate with community partners on preventive education around online extortion threats. Schools and youth groups will be key outreach targets in the coming months. Sextortion schemes typically unfold in similar patterns, detectives explained. In nude chat scams, suspects entice victims to strip on camera via dubious links, secretly recording them. Culprits then threaten to expose footage to friends and family unless blackmail demands are met.
Compensated dating cons also leverage psychological pressure. After gaining initial trust and payments, fraudsters impersonating sex workers make intimidating requests for more money through coerced videos or other threats.
Fearing shame and ridicule, many victims give in to these high-pressure tactics instead of seeking help, investigators said. But police urged the public to come forward, as reporting is key to preventing further victimisation.
Hong Kong saw a significant rise in online extortion scams amidst the pandemic’s societal shifts. As citizens spent more time isolated and online, fraudsters capitalised on loneliness and isolation.