As coronavirus spreads, scammers cash in on Hongkongers’ desperation for surgical masks

15-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Online scammers cashing in on a shortage of surgical masks in coronavirus-hit Hong Kong have duped residents out of more than HK$1 million, according to police.

The force has received 301 reports of online mask scams, involving a total of HK$1.1 million (US$141,600) lost, Chief Inspector William Siu Ching-lim of the cybersecurity bureau said on Thursday.

“The amount of money involved in each case ranged from HK$100 to HK$250,000,” Siu said, adding that police had arrested 10 men and two women in connection with some of the cases. He did not say how many victims were involved.

In one case, more than 1,000 people were scammed out of a total of HK$200,000 in a week, according to police.

Chief Inspector Jacky Sheung Chun-kit, assistant district commander on Lantau Island, said an advert was posted on Facebook between January 29 and February 4, saying Japanese surgical masks were for sale at HK$50 for a box of 50.

A box of 50 was recently sold for about HK$500 at a shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, with residents desperately hunting for supplies amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, which causes the deadly illness Covid-19.

Police said the victims followed instructions from the online platform and made the payments into two designated bank accounts.

“The victims realised they were conned when they did not receive the goods and they could not find the online advertisement. They then called police,” Sheung said.

Police arrested two Hongkongers aged 33 and 40 in Mong Kok and Lantau in connection with the scam. It was understood the two men were the holders of the bank accounts used to collect the money.

As of 1pm on Thursday, they were being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The city had 51 confirmed cases of the virus, and one related fatality. More than 60,000 people had been infected in mainland China.

With online adverts featuring CSI-labelled surgical masks made by inmates at factories inside prisons for Correctional Services Industries the force reminded the public not to buy masks from unknown sources, adding that they could have been stolen.

Siu noted that members of the public had been seen wearing CSI masks, which are intended for government use.

He urged the public to stay alert and only buy from online platforms with a good reputation. “If in doubt, call the Anti-Scam Helpline [on] 18222,” the chief inspector said.

Separately, police received two reports of surgical masks stolen from different public hospitals.

In one case, officers arrested a 56-year-old female contract cleaner at Princess Margaret Hospital on January 30, on suspicion of stealing items from a ward, including 14 surgical masks, 22 N95 respirator masks and some surgical gloves.


Category: Hong Kong

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