HONG KONG - Hong Kong recorded a near sixfold increase in the number of technology-based crimes in the past decade, hitting about 13,000 cases and monetary losses totalling HK$2.96 billion (S$507 million) in 2020, the latest figures show.
According to police, reports of cybercrime rose from 2,206 in 2011 to 12,916 last year, while the amount of money involved increased from HK$148 million to HK$2.96 billion, a 20-fold rise.
Last year’s crime figure was also 55 per cent more than the 8,322 cases in 2019.
Superintendent Terry Cheung Tin-lok of the cyber security and technology crime bureau said the surge in cybercrime in 2020 was mainly fuelled by a sharp rise in the number of online shopping scams.
Police handled 6,678 reports of internet shopping fraud last year, up more than 200 per cent from 2,194 cases in 2019.
“The amount of money involved also increased 350 per cent to more than HK$120 million last year [from HK$27.3 million the year before],” Cheung said.
He attributed the rise to a new type of fraud, surgical mask scams, which broke out as Hongkongers were desperate to protect themselves when the coronavirus pandemic gripped the city early last year.
In 2020, police received reports of about 2,400 mask scams involving financial losses totalling more than HK$70 million. The biggest case centred on a clinic that was duped by fraudsters posing as overseas mask suppliers into transferring HK$20 million to 14 bank accounts in the United States, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Turkey.
Another type of cybercrime was online romance fraud. The number of online love scams nearly doubled to 905 cases last year, with victims cheated out of HK$212 million.
After noticing the surge in online shopping scams, police mounted two operations, code-named “Ironwarrior”, in January and April this year.
In the latest crackdown, police rounded up 69 Hongkongers between April 18 and 30.
The suspects – 44 men and 25 women – were accused of being involved in 329 online shopping frauds in which swindlers bagged more than HK$1.6 million.
They included the core members of two fraud syndicates and the holders of bank accounts that were used to collect and launder scammed money.
They were arrested on suspicion of obtaining property by deception, money laundering and blackmail.
Cybercrimes from ‘sextortion’ to love scams surge, scammers prey on young spending more time online amid Covid-19 pandemic
Of them, 26 people were from two fraud syndicates who duped more than 120 people out of nearly HK$400,000.
One of the syndicates was accused of luring customers into buying products ranging from flowers to electrical appliances via social media platforms between last October and March this year.
Victims who transferred money into designated bank accounts controlled by scammers contacted police after the goods were not delivered and attempts to contact the sellers failed.
Police said a total of 112 people fell victim to the scam and were cheated out of more than HK$278,000.
In a series of raids on April 19 and 20, officers arrested 21 Hongkongers – 13 men and eight women – in connection with the cases.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.