Ten domestic helpers and a Hong Kong resident have been arrested for receiving payment in return for opening bank accounts that were used to collect and launder millions in swindled cash.
Dozens of bank accounts were involved in the scheme and the funds were thought to have been tied to online fraud cases reported in the city and abroad, according to acting superintendent Ray Mo Siu-hei of Tuen Mun police district.
“Preliminary investigation showed millions of dollars had been laundered through these accounts and some of the money was transferred into Hong Kong from overseas,” Mo said.
He said a small amount of money was left behind in each account. “Most of the money was funnelled out within hours of the transfers,” he added.
A money-laundering syndicate behind the bank accounts was uncovered during an investigation into an online romance scam in which a local woman was duped out of HK$2 million (US$258,000) last year.
An internet scammer, disguised as an American-born Korean businessman, befriended the victim online in mid-2020. After intimate exchanges with the woman online, the suspect used various excuses to make her pay him money, police said.
“The swindler claimed he needed money urgently because he failed in investments. He also told the victim he would relocate to Hong Kong from the United States and marry her,” Mo said.
The woman, who works as a clerk in the city, transferred HK$2 million as instructed into more than 10 bank accounts in dozens of transactions over two months.
She realised she had been swindled after she lost contact with him, and made a report to police last September.
According to the force, the money from the love scam was transferred into some of the bank accounts controlled by the syndicate, which had team up with international fraudsters.
After identifying the core figure of the syndicate and some of the account holders, officers launched an operation code-named Winclaim and detained 11 women in a series of raids across the city between last Wednesday and Monday this week.
Mo said 10 of the suspects were foreigners working as domestic helpers in the city, while the eleventh was a Hong Kong resident.
“One of the helpers is suspected to be the core figure of the syndicate, who was accused of persuading the other domestic helpers to open bank accounts in return of monetary rewards,” he said.
He said the operation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
In the same operation, police also busted another gang accused of duping four women and one man out of HK$2 million in connection with online investment frauds last year.
The gang befriended their targets on social media and lured the victims into making investments through a bogus firm, according to police. Police arrested nine men and two women in connection with the case.
The 22 suspects in the two cases were detained on suspicion of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud.
They have been released on bail, pending further investigation.
In the first 10 months of 2020, police dealt with 12,900 reports of deception, up 94.2 per cent from 6,641 over the same period of 2019.