Scam arrests give victims hope they'll get cash back

By Lincoln Tan

Chinese immigrants, who have lost thousands in a Hong Kong lotteries and investment scam, are hoping the arrest of a gang said to be behind the scam could result in some of their money being returned.

"I was fooled into thinking I was a millionaire, but now I'd really be happy even if I got a portion of what I lost," said Lily Kwok, who paid $11,000 to the scam last year.

"I really cannot believe I am stupid enough to fall for it because you always think that this is something that happens only to someone else," she said.

Several Chinese New Zealanders were among the 160 people in the Asia-Pacific region the Hong Kong gang duped out of HK$21 million ($3.8 million) in scams involving lotteries and investments.

The group of 13 locals were arrested in Hong Kong last week on suspicion of running the scams.

Two of the detained men, aged 49 and 54, are believed to be the masterminds.

Police found 17 bank books, 38 credit cards and HK$107,000 at the gang's base.

Mrs Kwok contacted the Hong Kong police after learning about the arrests from Hong Kong media reports.

Most of the victims were ethnic Chinese living in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and China, the Ming Pao Daily News reported.

Another New Zealand victim, Henry Chen, lost nearly $46,000 after paying supposed authorities in Hong Kong "advance taxes" to get a promised $1.5 million prize.

It was not until he was asked for a further $68,000 in taxes, because he was a New Zealand citizen and not a Hong Kong national, that Mr Chen suspected he had been defrauded.

He reported the matter to police in New Zealand and Hong Kong in 2008, and also went to National list MP Pansy Wong for help.

Mrs Wong, now the Minister for Ethnic Affairs, said a number of victims came to her for help and the scams were widespread.

The fraudsters made phone calls and sent emails in Chinese telling their targets they had won millions in a lottery or made huge returns from an investment.

The targets were then asked to pay an "administrative fee" to a bank account to collect their prize or returns.

The South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong police alerted Australian authorities and also suggested that Hong Kong residents tell relatives living overseas about the scam.

Chan Yee-lai, superintendent of the Commercial Crime Bureau, said members of the gang befriended victims on social networking websites.

"They built friendships over time" before persuading the victims to make investments, she said.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs' Scamwatch estimates 15 per cent of the New Zealand population have been victims of a scam over the internet or by other means, and Kiwis are conned out of $447 million yearly.

Sixty per cent of frauds are for $1000 or less but 13 per cent of the victims part with $20,000 or more.

Yesterday, national police headquarters said people should not respond to emails asking for money. Spokesman Jon Neilson said they should always make checks before sending any cash or goods.

"Once the money has gone overseas it would be virtually impossible to recover it as the scammers will have disposed of it."

- NZ Herald

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