90-year-old HK woman loses $43m in impersonation phone scam

HONG KONG A 90-year-old Hong Kong woman has been conned out of US$32 million (S$43 million) by fraudsters posing as Chinese officials, police said, in the city's biggest recorded phone scam.

Hong Kong's elderly are plagued by phone scammers who seek out vulnerable and wealthy victims willing to transfer money or make investments.

Police on Tuesday said scammers targeted an elderly woman living in a mansion on The Peak, the city's ritziest neighbourhood. Last summer, criminals contacted the unnamed woman pretending to be Chinese public security officials. They claimed her identity had been used in a serious criminal case in China.

She was told she needed to transfer money from her bank account into ones held by the investigation team for safekeeping and scrutiny, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, citing police sources.

Police said that several days later, a person arrived at her house with a dedicated mobile phone and SIM card to communicate with the fake security agents, who persuaded her to make a total of 11 bank transfers.

Over five months, the woman gave a total of HK$250 million (S$43 million) to the scammers, the largest sum recorded yet by a phone con.

Police said the scam was spotted only because the woman's domestic helper suspected something and contacted her employer's daughter, who alerted officers. After an investigation, a teen, 19, was arrested and has been released on bail.

The SCMP reported that the teen is believed to have been the person who turned up at the woman's house with the phone. - AFP