Hong Kong herbalist cheated out of HK$5 million in ‘scam within scam’

A Hong Kong herbalist was defrauded for a second time in four months after being cheated out of more than HK$5 million (US$641,000) by con artists pretending to be legal experts who would help him recover HK$1.17 million lost to an earlier online employment scam.

A source familiar with the case said on Tuesday that the Chinese medicine practitioner, 69, initially fell prey to a fake click farming operation after receiving a WhatsApp message from a scammer in January.

The victim was lured into taking part in online tasks to boost sales of cameras and told he would be paid a commission.

“He was tricked into transferring over HK$1.17 million into the scammer’s bank account as an ‘administration fee’ for being employed,” the source said.

The herbalist realised he had been conned when he was unable to get his money back or receive his so-called commission. He made a police report on January 20.

The source said the victim subsequently came across an online advertisement claiming to help victims of deception recover their lost funds through legal channels.

“The man was lured into transferring more than HK$5 million into dozens of designated bank accounts as handling fees and surety,” the source said.

Police have advised the public to use the force’s “Scameter” search engine, accessible through the CyberDefender website or app, to check for suspicious or fraudulent schemes. Photo: Warton Li

The Chinese medicine practitioner called police to ask for help on Saturday after he was unable to contact those who claimed they would help him recover his money.

The source said police had asked the relevant internet service company to remove the fake online advertisement and webpage set up by fraudsters.

On Tuesday, police posted an alert on their CyberDefender Facebook page saying “there has been a recent surge in individuals posing as legal professionals or detective agencies promising to help victims of online scams recover their lost funds. They even claim an impressive success rate of up to 90 per cent ”.

The force said these were scams within scams causing victims to suffer twice.

Police had shared a similar case on the same Facebook page on May 1, about a Hong Kong woman who was cheated out of more than HK$1 million after fraudsters impersonating lawyers promised to help her recover HK$80,000 she had lost in a romance scam four years ago.

The force said in its post that “if any person or group claims to be a professional anti-fraud team, law firm, or hacker organisation, and promises to help victims recover money lost to scams, that [too] is undoubtedly a scam”.

Police advised the public to use the force’s “Scameter” search engine, accessible through the CyberDefender website or app, to check for suspicious or fraudulent schemes.

The search engine contains information that can help users identify suspicious web addresses, emails, platform usernames, bank accounts, mobile phone numbers and IP addresses.

The city recorded a 42.6 per cent increase in all types of deception last year with 39,824 reports filed, up from 27,923 in 2022.

Financial losses from deception cases went up by 89 per cent to HK$9.1 billion in 2023 from HK$4.8 billion recorded in the previous year.


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