Teenager stole mum's jewellery to pay bogus official $43,000

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A 15-year-old boy sold jewellery he took from his mother's safe then transferred the money into a mainland Chinese bank account after being conned in a Hong Kong phone scam, police revealed on Monday.

The case came to light soon after 7pm on Sunday when police received a report of burglary from his 49-year-old mother.

Police said the woman found the safe had been opened and jewellery including necklaces, bracelets and rings worth HK$250,000 (S$43,000) were gone when she returned to her flat in Kwong Sui House in Tseung Kwan O.

An investigation showed the woman's son had received a call from a man impersonating a mainland Chinese law enforcement agent earlier on Sunday while his mother was not at home, according to police. Over the phone, the boy was accused of being involved in a criminal case.

"As instructed, the victim sold the jewellery and transferred the money into a bank account in mainland China," a police spokesman said.

Police have reclassified the case as deception. Detectives from Tseung Kwan O criminal investigation unit are handling the case. So far, no one has been arrested.

In 2018, police handled 615 phone scam cases in which victims lost a total of HK$60 million. In 346 of these cases, scammers posed as mainland Chinese officials.

In July 2017, a 14-year-old girl became the youngest victim of a phone scam after two con artists, posing as an immigration officer and a mainland official, duped her out of HK$7,500. She was among several secondary school pupils who fell victims to such phone scams that year.

The city's biggest telephone deception case was reported in March 2016, when a 52-year-old Yuen Long resident was cheated by bogus mainland Chinese law enforcement officials out of more than HK$58 million.

Many of those who were cheated had received pre-recorded calls from swindlers pretending to be the staff of courier firms, telecoms companies or the Hong Kong Immigration Department, before the calls were transferred to fraudsters impersonating officers from mainland public security departments.

The victims were often accused of violating mainland Chinese laws such as the offence of money laundering. They were then assured by scammers posing as mainland police officers that their case would be investigated properly if they transferred funds to a designated bank account as surety.

In Hong Kong, the offence of obtaining property by deception carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail under the Theft Ordinance.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post