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Source:The Hong Kong Standard/The Sun (image)



Fifteen people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been arrested for allegedly running a bogus auction website. The gang placed high-end items ranging from the iPhone 4S to diamonds on the website to lure buyers but did not hand over the items concerned after payment was made, police said. After monitoring the group for some time, officers raided homes at several locations in the New Territories early yesterday, in an operation code-named "Hillfinder." Several ATM cards, bank statements, headphones and a computer were seized. At least 30 unwitting buyers fell victim to the scam, involving a total sum of about HK$370,000, chief inspector Chim Tak-ming of the New Territories North Regional Crime Unit said.

The suspects, aged between 13 and 45, were either friends or related. Another one of them was only 16. More arrests are expected as the operation continues. The suspects listed their e-mail addresses and telephone numbers to trick customers into believing they were genuine sellers. Victims were enticed by the low prices and made payments through their bank accounts. But the fraudsters cut off all lines of contact once the payment came through. "People need to be aware of the risks involved in online shopping and should cease all transactions the instant any suspicion is aroused over the seller or his given e-mail," Chim said. He also advised buyers to arrange for payment in person when large sums of money are involved.

Police further urged parents to keep track of internet activities as the two arrested teens used family bank accounts to receive victims' payments. Computer Emergency Response Team Coodination Centre manager Roy Ko Wai-tak warned of an increase in such cases in the next few years as more people opt for the greater convenience of online purchases. He said web users are vulnerable to online fraud due to a lack of awareness of the risks involved and the inability to safeguard against potential cheats. There has, in fact, been an upsurge in the number of online fraud cases. A total of 888 online business fraud cases were registered last year, an increase of 265 over 2010. Of these, 666 concerned online auctions and shopping. "Online transactions are dangerous because you are usually buying things from strangers but are expected to trust the seller," Ko said. Noting that auction sites often have a ratings system where sellers are rated on their credibility and quality of goods, Ko urged users to "refer to these ratings before deciding on a purchase" and pay in person if large sums are involved.


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