Police bust gang that duped 430 online jobseekers in Hong Kong and Singapore

Hong Kong authorities launched an investigation after noticing a sharp rise in the number of internet job-related scams.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Police in Hong Kong and Singapore have broken up a transnational syndicate running online employment scams suspected of duping at least 430 people out of more than HK$28 million (S$4.8 million) this year.

In Hong Kong, officers rounded up 14 people - 12 men and two women - aged from 22 to 53 in a series of raids during the joint operation between June 16 and Friday, the force revealed on Tuesday. Two of the men were believed to be the ringleaders of the racket.

Singaporean police arrested 23 men and four women at the same time, including members of the syndicate accused of handling the proceeds of the crimes.

Hong Kong authorities launched an investigation after noticing a sharp rise in the number of internet job-related scams. Police handled 255 such cases in the first five months of the year, compared with 46 reports in the same period in 2020. Authorities recorded 236 cases for all of last year, and 66 in 2019.

The syndicate was believed to be behind more than 300 cases in Singapore that netted HK$19 million since May and 134 incidents in Hong Kong involving HK$9.13 million between January and June, according to Superintendent Cheung Man Chuen of the New Territories North regional crime unit.

According to the force, the syndicate took advantage of the worsened employment situation during the coronavirus pandemic to prey on job-hunters and people seeking part-time jobs.

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The gang would place recruitment advertisements online to lure victims by offering them monetary rewards for e-shopping. The more transactions they completed the higher their financial gain, the syndicate told them. The victims were told the shopping helped to boost the popularity of the shopping platforms.

"Fraudsters promised that after the transactions, the victims would receive the principal and commission that was 5 to 12 per cent of the amount they spent in online shopping," Senior Inspector Fung Chun-pat said.

The victims were instructed to deposit the money into syndicate-controlled bank accounts, instead of directly with the online shops, he said.

They realised they had been conned when they did not receive the sum they put down or the promised commission and were unable to contact the "employers", Fung said.

According to police, a nurse in Hong Kong lost HK$950,000 after making more than 20 online purchases. The sum was the biggest amount lost in the scam.

Fung said the other victims each lost between HK$1,500 and hundreds of thousands of dollars and they included unemployed people, housewives and students.

In Hong Kong, the suspects were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

Among those picked up in Hong Kong were holders of the bank accounts used to collect the money scammed from the victims.

Police said the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.