A wealthy 90-year-old woman in Hong Kong was conned out of $32 million by criminals posing as Chinese authorities — in the region’s biggest recorded phone scam, according to reports.
The woman — who lives in a mansion in the ritzy neighborhood known as The Peak – was targeted last summer by fraudsters claiming to be public security officials, the South China Morning Post reported.
“She was told her identity was used in a serious criminal case in mainland China,” a police source told the outlet. “She was then instructed to transfer her money to designated bank accounts to investigate whether the cash was the proceeds of crime.”
The source added that the victim “was promised that all the money would be given back to her after the investigation.”
A 19-year-old university student allegedly went to the woman’s home and gave her a cellphone to communicate with the con artist, the source told the Morning Post.
As instructed, she transferred the huge sum through 11 transactions into three accounts between August 2020 and January 2021, police told the outlet.
One of the scammers also accompanied the woman to a bank to make one of the transactions.
Police said the scam was detected after the victim’s domestic helper thought something suspicious was occurring and contacted her employer’s daughter, who then alerted police, Agence France-Presse reported.
Officers from the Kowloon East regional crime unit arrested the 19-year-old last month and froze bank accounts holding over $1 million, according to the South China Morning Post.
But the phone scammers have made off with the rest.
Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest concentrations of billionaires, many of them elderly, making them vulnerable to such scams.
Reports of phone scams rose 18 percent in the first quarter of 2021, with fraudsters pocketing some $45 million over the period, AFP reported.
Last year, a 65-year-old woman was duped out of $10 million after a similar scheme in which people posed as mainland security officials, according to the news agency.