Violence, fake photos among debt collector tactics as shady loan firms target Hong Kong helpers

“We have received a massive number of inquiries … We received a few cases per week back in April. In June, we received a few cases every day. Even after the employers made a report with police, the harassment continued.”

Lam said multiple online loan companies, including one based overseas, deceived helpers into submitting personal details and their employers’ particulars for “loan consultations” and receiving prizes such as smartphones.

Coalition president Chrystie Lam (third left) and lawmaker Edward Leung (fourth left) join a press conference on Sunday warning about the latest scam. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The scammers then transferred the money into the workers’ bank accounts – without signing loan agreements – and demanded they return it in two weeks with high interest rates and surcharges.

She said one worker, for example, borrowed HK$2,000 and the debt soared 140 per cent to HK$4,800, adding that HK$50,000 was the highest amount owed among the 30 cases.

Lam said debt collectors intimidated the workers and the employers through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.

Some received photos of their children and fake obscene pictures of employers, while in other cases red paint was thrown outside their flats – a common strong-arm tactic used by debt collectors.

Most employers in these cases terminated their helpers’ contracts.

Peter Chan* discovered red paint had been splashed outside his home in March after debt collectors tried to get money back from his domestic helper, who has worked for his family for seven years.

Chan, in his 30s, said the incident had frightened his child and those of his neighbours.

“I worry that my child will get scared when the debt collector comes after my worker,” he said.

Chan said his helper owed in total around HK$120,000 to a few companies, and that he had paid off HK$6,000 of the debt.

Chan said the family still needed the helper as he was a working parent. But he added that he would not renew the helper’s contract when it expired in September.

Lam, of the coalition, urged the government to regulate overseas loan companies and step up education efforts. She also noted that some migrant workers borrowed money from multiple financial companies.

Lam urged the government to set up debt limits similar to the practice in Singapore, which only allows foreigners to borrow a maximum of S$500 (US$370).

Domestic workers with a six-month or above contract should be able to borrow at most a sum equivalent to two months of their salary, she said. Their minimum monthly salary stands at HK$4,730.

“This measure will not prohibit them from borrowing money but it can ensure that they can borrow only when they can repay it,” she said.

Lawmaker Edward Leung Hei warned debt collectors to behave, noting the government could consider rolling out licensing requirements and threaten their survival.

He also urged the government to consider requiring debt companies to share applicants’ information to check whether they could handle the debt.

Domestic helpers enjoy a day off in Central. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Leung said he had been in touch with government representatives, who agreed there was room to improve the situation of migrant workers applying for loans from multiple companies.

Rowena Borja, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, said the government and foreign consulates in the city had asked the group to organise activities on the latest fraud trend and increase workers’ awareness about it.

But she disagreed that foreign workers should face borrowing caps as it could be discriminatory when locals could also take out loans, adding that people should be responsible for paying their debts.

The Labour Department said it had collaborated with law enforcement agencies to promote anti-deception awareness among helpers and shared the messages with the consulates of countries that were sources of migrant workers.

It said it would continue to work with employers’ organisations, NGOs and consulates to promote financial prudence among helpers. It would also continue to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, the department added.

The department also encouraged migrant workers to speak openly with employers if they needed financial help.

Police, in response to Post queries, said they had continuously adopted proactive measures to enhance enforcement actions on illegal debt collection activities.

“Police will continue to closely monitor the trend of improper debt collection practices, and formulate comprehensive preventive and operational strategies in the light of specific circumstances,” the force said.

It said it would further combat illegal debt collection through media and prosecution actions, while engaging relevant consulates and NGOs to raise helpers’ awareness about common scams.

As of April, Hong Kong had more than 2,000 licensed money lenders, including some renewing their licences.

Current regulations stipulate that money lenders and their debt collectors can only recover money from the person in debt and cannot engage in unlawful practices. The statutory interest rate cap for lending is 48 per cent per annum.

Money lenders found to be contravening the regulations face imprisonment and fines.

In 2023, crimes related to debt collection included 2,080 cases of criminal damage, 490 of criminal intimidation and another 30 of wounding and serious assault.

*Name changed at interviewee’s request.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.