18 April 2019
Criminals have turned social media sites into a happy hunting ground for victims. Photo: Blue 16 Media
Criminals have turned social media sites into a happy hunting ground for victims. Photo: Blue 16 Media

Beware: Criminals lurking behind social media apps

Be careful when using social media apps: There may be criminals lurking behind them.

Hong Kong police have recorded at least 826 fraud cases from January to October in which the perpetrators used social media apps to approach their victims and fleece them of a combined HK$57 million, Ming Pao Daily reported Wednesday. The figure represents a 300 percent surge from a year earlier.

Senior Inspector Otto Wong, officer-in-charge of Technology Crime Prevention Unit, said the victims were aged 10 to 68.

In one case, a middle-aged woman lost HK$100,000 after she was convinced to buy 100 prepaid game cards on four occasions. She said she agreed to the transaction because she thought the seller was a friend of hers.

Wong said some social media apps, such as LINE, automatically sets the last four digits of the account owner’s mobile phone number as password, making it easy for criminals to crack it once they manage to hack into the owner’s email account.

Fraudsters also take advantage of instant messaging or social networking sites that use the account holder’s email address as the login name. Criminals, by hacking into a victim’s e-mail inbox, could easily retrieve the account owner’s password by making a “forgot password” request to those sites.

During the first 10 months this year, the number of fraud cases from online auctions also surged 70 percent from a year ago, resulting in losses of HK$13.61 million, up 75 percent year on year.

In one case, a victim sold his old computer at an auction site for HK$8,000, but the overseas buyer asked the victim to do him a favor and buy for him 16 cameras so that he could save on shipping cost.

The deal was worth over HK$300,000 for which the victim was supposed to get a commission of HK$4,500.

The victim shipped the goods before the payment arrived. The victim then received a notification from a supposed bank employee, who turned out to be working for the fraudster, asking the victim to cough up another HK$80,000 as handling fee for the payment for the cameras.

All in all, the victim lost HK$420,000.

Meanwhile, commercial e-mail frauds dropped 3.4 percent year on year to 919 cases this year. However, the amount involved jumped 50 percent to HK$830 million.

Blackmail cases involving “naked chat” also rose 40 percent to 551 this year, and resulted in losses of HK$1.87 million, up from HK$1.41 million in 2013. In this scam, the victim is sweet-talked into undressing in front of the camera by the other party who is also naked. Later, the victim’s pictures are used for blackmail.

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