Fraudsters in romance scams typically lure victims into their four-step trap, starting with sweet talk to gain their trust, police said.
To help people identify scammers disguised as lovers, police posted conversations between scammers and victims on Facebook.
First, scammers speak nicely to victims to gain their trust. Then they ask victims to download a mobile application for transactions. When victims become suspicious and demand their money, the investment platform freezes their accounts. Some even ask victims to pay more so they can redeem their money, which is another lie.
According to Cyber Defender, a project launched by the Cybersecurity and Technological Crime Bureau of the Hong Kong Police, this type of fraud is known as a “butcher shop scam”.
During the “pig search” period, scammers search for targets on social media or dating apps. Some pretend to be rich and establish a romantic relationship with their targets.
The scammer then encourages victims to invest in securities, currencies or virtual assets on fake investment platforms or fake mobile apps. Usually, investment websites cannot be found on search engines and fake apps are not available on official app stores, while stock or commodity quotes and asset portfolio of the user are also falsified.
Victims would initially make small profits in this “pig feeding” step. When victims then request to withdraw money, the fake platform admin invents reasons to delay the request and trick victims into investing larger sums. This ends up causing the victims to suffer huge losses and the “pig” is “slaughter”.
The number of romance scam cases rose to 642 in 2021, more than triple the previous year’s 181 cases, involving HK$360 million. Many of the victims were even experienced investors or professionals. Police analysis showed that the age group most likely to fall victim to such scams was between 21 and 50 years old.
Officers added that women were particularly vulnerable to fraud, with the ratio to male victims being five to one.
The police also proposed certain anti-fraud measures, such as using a search engine to find photos posted on the other party’s social media accounts and checking whether the circle of friends of their accounts is abnormal.
If citizens suspect they have become victims of a scam, they can video call the “scammer” to confirm his face and identity. Police also advised citizens not to download apps from unknown sources and to be wary of investment schemes with unrealistic returns.