Law & Crime: Police arrest 22 Hongkongers in money laundering probe linked to scams overseas

HK$13 million paid into city banks by victims of investment frauds and email scams

Twenty-two Hongkongers accused of laundering HK$13 million through their bank accounts were rounded up in a series of police raids across the city on Wednesday.

The money was suspected to have been linked to 18 deception cases in Canada, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Africa last year and this year.

Senior Inspector Sophia Lau Pak-wing of the commercial crime bureau said the cases included investment frauds and email scams. It is understood one case in Africa involved a loss of HK$4.8 million.

She said scammers used various excuses to deceive the victims into remitting money into designated bank accounts in Hong Kong.

“Even though the cases did not happen in Hong Kong, the suspects could be in breach of money laundering laws because their bank accounts were used to collect crime proceeds.”

Lau said money laundering carried a maximum penalty of a 14-year jail term and HK$5 million fine.

Hong Kong police have begun investigating such activities after receiving referrals from overseas law enforcement agencies. After detailed investigation and analysis, police identified the holders of bank accounts involved in money laundering.

Officers raided more than 20 locations across the city and arrested 13 men and nine women. The suspects were still being questioned on Wednesday and none had been charged.

In one scam, fraudsters hacked into a personal email account and sent out deceptive emails to people on the contact list of the account, according to the police website.

“The email claimed the sender had encountered an accident overseas and requested the victims to transfer money to accounts designated by the scammers as a matter of emergency,” it said.

Victims made the remittance only to realise they had been cheated later when making contact with relatives or friends.

In one type of investment fraud, victims are lured to buy “high return, low risk” products. Eventually the investment companies shut and the people in charge disappear.

Police advised the public to safeguard their personal data, set proper passwords and change them regularly, and not to open emails of dubious origin or with suspicious attachments.

The public were further advised not to use computers in public places to access their emails, conduct e-banking or carry out other operations involving sensitive data.

Police also advise the public to discuss investments with family members and to consult qualified professionals first.

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