Telephone Scams

Warren Ganesh, Senior Consultant, Smyth & Co in association with RPC

“That’s the police, isn’t it? No, they don’t call”. This is a line from “Michael Clayton” (2007); another film about law and the movies and one that any new entrant to the profession should be requested to watch, as part of their induction training, in addition to reviewing some of the scam prevention guidance referred to at the end of this Industry Insights.

As readers will have noted in the local press, telephone scams in Hong Kong are common. Indeed, there is an industry of scam artists linked to organised crime and the money they handle is proceeds of crime.

One recent modus operandi of some scam artists is to pretend to be security officials from the Mainland and telephone victims accusing them of having been caught up in some illegal activity that requires payment of a “fine”. In particular, some fraudsters are reported to have told victims that their courier packages to the Mainland have been found to contain illegal contents (for example, fake documents) requiring payment of a “fine”.

The different sorts of scams evolve. By the time of publication of this Industry Insights there are likely to have been other scams in Hong Kong (many of which use telephone and/or email and originate from other jurisdictions).

With this in mind, it worth bearing in mind the captioned line from “Michael Clayton”; a line between George Clooney, playing a US attorney, and a client in fear that the police are about to telephone him at home in connection with a suspected crime. Mainland security officials or police are unlikely to call in connection with crime investigation; they prefer to visit “persons of interest” and arrange interviews.

If someone receives a telephone call from a caller claiming to represent “security officials” and seeking payment of money they should report this to the Hong Kong Police Force.

Other telephone scams this year have involved persons trying to impersonate agencies in Hong Kong such as: (i) the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (“HKMA”) in order to obtain (among other things) customers’ confidential personal information and (ii) the Securities and Futures Commission (“SFC”) in order to offer “investments”. The HKMA would not telephone a bank customer asking for his or her bank details and the SFC does not offer investment opportunities.

Readers and their clients should remain vigilant. The HKMA (and the Hong Kong Association of Banks) and SFC websites contain some useful guidance and warnings. For example:

The Hong Kong Police Force website also contains a useful “scam prevention message” and video recording regarding “Telephone Deception (NEW)”*:

* At the time of writing, other Hong Kong Police Force scam prevention messages and video recordings include (for example): “Mortgage Fraud”, “Insurance Fraud”, “Caller ID Spoofing”, “Social Media Deception”, “Email Scam”, “Online Business Fraud”, “Virtual Commodities Trading (Bitcoin)”, “Online Romance Scam (NEW)” and “Online Naked Chat Blackmail”. Some of the content is quite alarming. Viewer discretion may be advised.

Editorial Note: Readers wanting more on “Law and Movies” can, of course, read Mr.Jenkin Chan’s excellent article on point in the February 2015 edition of the Hong Kong Lawyer (