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In a significant crackdown on fraud and money-laundering syndicates, Hong Kong police have arrested 100 individuals and recovered over HK$180 million from 295 victims. The operation, known as “Widepeak,” targeted suspects involved in various scams, including cryptocurrency scams, investment fraud, employment fraud, internet love scams, e-shopping swindles, and telephone deception. Most of the suspects were holders of stooge accounts who loaned or sold their bank accounts to criminal syndicates in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Among the cases highlighted was an investment scam that defrauded a 74-year-old businessman of HK$23 million and an online shopping scam that tricked 54 victims into spending over HK$70,000 on fake discount tickets.

Responding to the surge in reported deception cases, the police have advised the public to use their “Scameter” search engine available on the CyberDefender website or app to verify dubious schemes. The tool helps identify suspicious web addresses, emails, platform usernames, bank accounts, mobile phone numbers, and IP addresses. The police also offer assistance through their 18222 “Anti-Scam Helpline.” Superintendent Chen Chi-cheong stressed the importance of targeting stooge accounts, warning individuals against lending or selling their bank accounts as they could face money laundering charges punishable by up to 14 years in jail and a HK$5 million fine. The crackdown was initiated following a nearly 30% increase in reported deception cases in the Sham Shui Po district, with 2,419 cases reported last year.

Hong Kong experienced a 42.6% increase in all deception cases in 2023, with financial losses amounting to HK$9.1 billion, up from HK$4.8 billion in 2022. Superintendent Chen highlighted that over 200 holders of stooge accounts were arrested in the past year for money laundering and conspiracy to launder money, with 11 convictions resulting in prison sentences ranging from four to 28 months. One recent scam involved fraudsters targeting South Korean crypto users with an Ethereum-themed scam, sending alarming text messages claiming that users’ ETH coins would be “burned” if they did not withdraw immediately. The messages led recipients to a phishing site where scammers attempted to steal wallet details and passwords, illustrating the rising trend of cybercrime related to virtual assets.

Police and regulators have observed a surge in crypto-related scams, with cybercrimes involving virtual assets on the rise in South Korea. In 2023, the National Police Agency handled 167,688 cyber fraud cases, with crimes relating to virtual assets accounting for 38.3%. Between January and April 2024, the Financial Supervisory Service received 2,209 reports of financial losses due to crypto scams, 17.7% of which were linked to phishing attacks. The increase in financial losses and deception cases has raised concerns among authorities, prompting efforts to crack down on fraudulent activities and educate the public on identifying and reporting scams. The ongoing crackdown on fraud and money-laundering syndicates reflects the authorities’ commitment to combatting financial crimes and protecting citizens from falling victim to fraudulent schemes.

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