Ordinary Residents Report on the Situation of Phone Scams

2017.5.4

Telephone scams continue to occur day in and day out. Their nefarious tricks have caused many people to lose a lot of money. According to Police reports, the first quarter of this year there were 171 reported cases of phone scams which caused a total of $45,000,000 in losses to the victims. There were eleven cases of “pretending to be an official” scams during the Easter Holiday period alone, leading to financial loss totaling $12,450,000 combined between all the victims caught in this charade. Even though currently the police are regularly reporting phone scams, we believe this only reflects a portion of the true picture. This is likely because victims will only report scams to the police if the financial loss is significant. We also notice that there is already a platform that gathers scam reports from ordinary people. Therefore, we estimated the number of reports from residents and looked at the number of reports of telephone scammers on the “Hong Kong Junk Call” website. This allows us to understand the true situation of how ordinary residents in Hong Kong receive malicious or scam phone calls.


Analysis


1.There are Endless Methods of Scamming People


We discovered that there are endless methods that scammers use to trick people. The authenticity of some of these deception efforts is frightening. Scammers have set up false official websites, and have even forged official warrants. Scammers have also used methods that make their phone number appear as the official phone number of the institution they are pretending to be. This and other related methods can trick a victim to download the app and therefore compromise their sensitive information. According to Police Reports, scammers have recently changed their methods again, and whereas they previously tried to have potential victims send money to the Mainland or open Mainland bank accounts, now they try to arrange victims to meet up and hand over the money personally. This is to avoid bank or currency exchange staff from seeing the scam in action.


2.The awareness of scam victims on how to defend themselves is low


The Immigration Department has released a statement that it would not contact residents via voicemail. Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on the Mainland have stated that they will neither investigate cases nor contact citizens by phone, and do not require a deposit from every party to open a bank account. Such clarifications and explanations from official sources have been widely reported by the media. However, despite all this, victims still fall for the scams of the “fake immigration department” and “fake MPS”. This proves that they don’t know how to defend themselves or simply do not follow the news closely.


Proposals


As telephone scam methods are constantly changing, the government should increase the alert level of residents towards these scams by being more proactive in its anti-scamming work. This is on top of the police continuing to report on the situation and changing methods of scammers. This work to increase awareness and alertness should also be targeted at low-information residents.


1.Establish a “will not call” database


We have noticed that many altered phone numbers are changed to look like official government phone numbers or the customer service numbers of major businesses, banks or social organizations. Therefore, these numbers should be set up in a way that it would only receive inquiries and will not call people. We feel that the police should set up a database of “Will Not Call” phone numbers. With the acquiesce and agreement of each of the following, inquiry and customer service numbers from government departments, important businesses and banks, public utilities, the Housing Authority and hospitals should be added to the “will not call” database. Once residents receive a mysterious call from any of these inquiry or customer service numbers, the database can activate and automatically SMS the receiver with a message saying “Caution: This number will not call the general public”.


2.Send out targeted SMS to residents


The police have previously sent text messages to residents warning them to be alert of scam activity. However, as these SMS messages were sent out suddenly, without notice and without a concerted anti-scamming operation, these messages were in fact treated with confusion and suspicion by the people. This caused residents to feel that these messages were from “fake police”. Therefore, we propose that the government look at how Taiwan deals with this, by sending an automatic SMS to people who are receiving calls from numbers on the “Will Not Call database” stating that this is an “abnormal or illegal call”. This will alert people by the SMS message prior to receiving the call. As these SMS messages were targeted towards a clear objective, we believe that such measures can increase the alertness of the general public towards telephone scams.


3.Speed up the launch of a Spam-blocking App


In order to deal with scam or junk calls, residents who are alert to the dangers will proactively download an app to block such calls. However, this has been seen through by scammers who recently created a malicious app named “protect” which after being downloaded will steal the personal and sensitive information of the victim. Thus, we feel that the police should offer an official anti-spam app that can be safely downloaded by residents. The advantages of an official app is that important numbers such as universities and hospitals can be put on the “safe list” so as to allow residents to take critical calls while blocking scam attempts. Actually the police have already cooperated with City University and the “Hong Kong Junk Call” website to research effective methods to block scammers using a smartphone app. This research was already completed by the 3rd quarter of 2016, therefore we propose that the police should speed up the process by which this App can be downloaded by the general public.

Media Contacts:


DAB Legislative Councilor Gary Chan 77700829


DAB Legislative Councilor Holden Chow 94664916


HK Junk Call Manager William Wu Man-Hon 64644895


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