A total of 270 fraud cases involving mobile instant messaging apps were reported in the first three months of the year, up nine times from the same period last year, the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau (CSTCB) said.
The victims lost a combined HK$2.6 million from the scams during the quarter, compared with HK$2.1 million for the entire 2017, according to the bureau’s data, which also revealed that the victims were aged 17 to 75.
The CSTCB specifically urged WhatsApp users to be vigilant because it found that nine in 10 of the fraud cases involved the use of WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging service in Hong Kong, Apple Daily reports. The most common type of scam was identity theft, the bureau said.
Chief Inspector Lau Ka-ho said fraudsters use the mobile phone number of their target to apply for a WhatsApp account.
As a verification code is sent to the target’s phone through a WhatsApp text message, the fraudster calls the person, pretends to be a friend and asks for the code by making an excuse.
Once he gets the code, the fraudster is able to log into the victim’s WhatsApp account and take advantage of all contact information contained in it.
He then calls one of the victim’s friends in the directory to buy game cards before selling them for profit.
In one case, a middle-aged woman was swindled out of nearly HK$120,000 after a scammer posed as a friend of hers and asked her to help buy a game card named MyCard for more than 50 times in just one day.
The CSTCB said it is trying to determine if there is a syndicate behind this particular kind of scam.
Police called on the public to immediately contact their family members and friends if they find any suspicious text messages sent through their accounts. Smartphone users were also urged not to open any links from unknown sources.
People are advised to dial the “18222″ hotline to contact the Anti-Deception Coordination Centre for assistance if they suspect any scams.
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