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Italian financial consultant in Hong Kong duped out of HK$14 million in bogus cryptocurrency investment as part of love scam

  • Man, 55, had responded to Tinder message from con artist pretending to be female investment broker in Singapore
  • The case is the latest in a string of similar crimes with losses for each totalling more than HK$10 million

An Italian financial consultant in Hong Kong was duped out of more than HK$14 million (US$1.8 million) in five weeks after being tricked by his bogus online lover into investing in cryptocurrency, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The victim, 55, living in Western district, fell victim to the romance scam in mid-February after he responded to a message from dating app Tinder, sent by a con artist impersonating a female investment broker in Singapore, a source familiar with the case said.

The pair then continued to contact each other through WhatsApp and developed an online romantic relationship before the man was persuaded to set up an account on a bogus trading website to invest in digital money.

“The victim was told that investing in digital money could provide high returns,” the source said.

Between March 6 and 23, he was coaxed into transferring HK$14.2 million into nine designated bank accounts over 22 transactions, according to police.

He realised it was a scam when he was unable to get back his money and so-called profits. He then called police late last month.

The force has classified the case as “obtaining property by deception” – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail under the Theft Ordinance.

The case was the latest in a recent string of similar crimes, each totalling more than HK$10 million in losses.

In February, a 63-year-old investment manager called police after he lost HK$12.8 million in an internet love scam. The money was inherited from his late father.

In that case, the swindler, claiming to be a female cryptocurrency investment expert, also lured the victim into setting up an account on a bogus trading website to invest in virtual coins.

According to police, such fraudulent investment websites or apps introduced to scam victims showed rising cryptocurrency or stock prices and returns, but the information presented was fake and controlled by criminals.

Another source warned that positive returns in such investment accounts were designed to coax victims into investing more money.

The police website states: “Initially victims can make small profits, but after putting in more money they end up suffering huge losses. The fraud is also known as the ‘pig-butchering scam’.”

The amount of money lost through romance scams in the city rose by 16 per cent to HK$697 million last year from HK$599 million in 2021, but the number of cases dipped 7 per cent to 1,533 from 1,659.

Online scammers in such cases generally pose as merchants or professionals in fields such as engineering, banking or the military, charming their victims before asking for money for different reasons.

Swindlers were constantly changing tactics, the force said, urging the public to be wary of people they interacted with online. Police noted victims had never seen their bogus lovers in person.

On January 13, a 51-year-old woman called police after a swindler posing as a patient with terminal cancer duped her out of HK$9.6 million in an online romance scam.

The con artist, claiming to be a Korean engineer working in Poland, told the victim he had lung cancer and would die if he did not receive an organ transplant.

If in doubt, members of the public are urged to contact the police’s 24-hour anti-scam helpline on 18222.


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