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Hong Kong woman loses £23m in largest-ever phone scam

Fraudsters posing as Chinese security officials trick victim into emptying bank accounts

Tim Wyatt
Wednesday 21 April 2021 16:22 BST
Hong Kong’s growing numbers of ultra-rich millionaires are increasingly the target of sophisticated phone scammers
Hong Kong’s growing numbers of ultra-rich millionaires are increasingly the target of sophisticated phone scammers (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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An elderly millionaire in Hong Kong was conned out of £23m by fraudsters in what is the territory’s largest ever phone scam.

The unnamed 90-year-old woman was fooled into transferring hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars into the accounts of the scammers, police said. The con artists posed as mainland Chinese security officials and told their victim her identity had been stolen by criminals in China.

She was then told she must transfer money from her bank account into ones controlled by the scammers for safekeeping while they supposedly investigated the fake identity theft, reported the South China Morning Post.

Police investigating what they report is the most lucrative phone scam ever detected in Hong Kong have arrested a 19-year-old university student in connection with the crime.

Bank accounts containing HK$9m (about £832,000) have been frozen but the vast majority of the HK$250m stolen by the fraudsters remains missing.

“She was told her identity was used in a serious criminal case in mainland China,” a police source told the newspaper.

“She was then instructed to transfer her money to designated bank accounts to investigate whether the cash was the proceeds of crime.

“She was promised that all the money would be given back to her after the investigation.”

The student arrested later visited the victim’s mansion in Hong Kong’s luxurious The Peak neighbourhood to give her a special phone to communicate with the con artists.

Police were only brought in after the 90-year-old’s domestic helper suspected something was wrong and alerted the victim’s daughter.

Phone scams in Hong Kong, which has one of the world’s highest concentration of the ultra-rich, have been on the rise in recent years, up 18 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. Police said cases handled this year already amounted to a total of HK$350m (£32m) being stolen.

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