29 Nov 2019
Police from Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore mounted a joint operation and busted a transnational syndicate that swindled 139 women out of HK$34 million (US$4.34 million) in online romance scams, local police said on Thursday.
The three-day transnational police operation, code-named “Soarblaze”, led to the arrests of 39 people, including three core figures of the racket. Thirteen of the syndicate members were caught in Hong Kong.
A police source said the syndicate was based in Malaysia and had been in operation since June last year.
According to police, the core figures – two men and one woman, aged between 33 and 49 – were arrested in Malaysia.
The other 36 suspects – seven men and 29 women – were arrested for money laundering, after their bank accounts were found to have been used to collect the swindled money and launder the proceeds of the crime.
“The total amount the victims lost is about HK$34 million,” police said in a statement.
Hong Kong police said the rise in the number of cases in the past few years had prompted officers from the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau to mount the joint operation.
In the first nine months of 2019, there were 425 reports of online romance scams in which swindlers bagged HK$156.6 million. This year’s biggest loser was a 53-year-old woman who was conned out of HK$28 million.
Online romance swindlers duped 596 victims out HK$450 million in the city last year. In 2017, 235 victims lost HK$109 million in romance scams.
In 2016, there were 114 such reports involving HK$95 million, and in 2015, officers handled 52 reports, which saw scammers receiving HK$32.4 million.
By Clifford Lo, South China Morning Post 28 November 2019
Read more at South China Morning Post
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