Phone Scammers Talked a Woman Into Handing Over $32 Million

Those are some costly phone calls.
April 22, 2021, 7:31am
Hong Kong phone scam
A wealthy Hong Kong woman transferred $32 million to scammers in five months. Photo: ANTONY DICKSON / AFP

A 90-year-old woman living in a luxury mansion in Hong Kong has been tricked out of about $32 million by impersonators of mainland Chinese police, in one of the biggest telephone scams in the Asian financial center.

Police say the woman first received a phone call from someone who claimed to be a mainland Chinese official in August. Days later, a person visited her home and gave her a mobile phone. 

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A former British colony, Hong Kong has kept a separate police force and judicial system after it was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997, but many local residents have properties and business dealings in the mainland. 

In the following five months, the woman transferred a total of HK$250 million ($32.2 million) to the scammers. Her daughter, who was alerted by the women’s domestic helper, eventually made her report the scam to police. 

Police said they arrested a 19-year-old man last month in connection with the scam, and could arrest more people as the investigation proceeds. 

It’s unclear what exactly got the 90-year-old woman to give her money away.

It has become a well-known tactic for phone scammers to impersonate mainland Chinese personnel and claim the victims are implicated in criminal investigations, before asking them to transfer money to certain bank accounts.

A police source told the South China Morning Post that the 90-year-old woman, who lives in a mansion in the super-wealthy neighborhood on Victoria Peak, was told that her identity was used in a serious case in mainland China, and she need to transfer her money to designated bank accounts as part of the investigation.

She was promised to have the money back, the report said. 

Hong Kong police said at a news conference last week that impersonating official figures contributed to most of the $74 million financial losses recorded in scam cases in 2020. 

Senior inspector Ng Ka-lee said swindlers would typically send fake court documents to scare the victims, and instruct them to keep the case secret if they want to be proved innocent. Victims would then be told to transfer their money or give away their banking documents, she said. 

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