HONG KONG: A Hong Kong woman trying to adopt a kitten online has lost more than US$770,000 in a crypto ruse, police said, as figures obtained by AFP on Friday (Feb 10) showed a sharp rise in scams in the city involving digital currencies.
The Chinese finance hub has been encouraging investment in virtual assets to bolster its fintech credentials, but the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency and lack of regulation makes it popular with fraudsters.
Nearly 1,900 scams involving cryptocurrency were reported to Hong Kong police in the first 10 months of last year, a major increase on the 494 in the whole of 2020, police told AFP.
The losses from those scams also skyrocketed to HK$1.28 billion (US$163 million) from HK$114 million in 2020.
In one recent case, a 58-year-old woman fell victim to an elaborate con that began with an online acquaintance promising a kitten as a gift, according to police.
The woman was later told the kitten had died while being transported to Hong Kong from abroad and that she was entitled to an insurance payout.
But she was also told she must pay “administrative fees” to release the insurance funds, prompting her to make 40 crypto payments collectively worth US$773,000.
No arrests have yet been made, police told AFP.
Many of the crypto scams have less to do with technology and rely more on old-fashioned confidence tricks or extortion.
“Cryptocurrency and NFTs are highly speculative virtual assets,” police added.
“Caution must be heeded when conducting relevant transactions and investment.”
Hong Kong police also said they launched a platform last September that helps people in the city conduct checks on suspicious websites, email addresses and phone numbers.