A minibus driver suspected of using phantom passengers to defraud the government was arrested early Thursday.
The 49-year-old driver, surnamed Lam, allegedly cheated the public transport fare concession scheme for the elderly and disabled over the past six months, Apple Daily reported.
Police said he tapped Octopus cards belonging to elderly people as many as 7,500 times on the Octopus meter of his green minibus to claim a total of about HK$150,000 (US$19,400) in fare subsidies from the government.
Lam is a driver on minibus route 501S, which operates overnight services from Kwun Tong to Sheung Shui for a fare of HK$22.50.
The concession scheme enables elderly people and eligible persons with disabilities to travel on public transport at any time for a fare of $2.
For each trip taken by the holder of an Octopus card for the elderly on route 501S, the government pays the HK$20.50 difference in the fare to the minibus operator.
Lam was seen tapping an Octopus card on his meter, with no passengers on board the minibus, outside Lung Cheung Mall in Wong Tai Sin late Wednesday night.
Police found 21 Octopus cards for the elderly on him when he was arrested.
Chief Inspector Tang Wai-ying of the police Commercial Crime Bureau, said Lam has been driving the minibus route for two years.
The driver is suspected to have started committing the crime in May, about a month after the government expanded the subsidy scheme on March 29 to cover minibus fares.
Police believe Lam acted on his own, but how much he has pocketed of the HK$150,000 is unknown, as he was hired by the minibus company on a revenue-splitting basis.
The Transport Department called police after noticing an unusually large number of elderly people taking the overnight minibus route.
People convicted of fraud could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.
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