A still from a video produced by the Hong Kong Police Force warning Hongkongers of social media love scams. Screengrab via HKPF.

Taiwan urged China and Hong Kong on Tuesday to work together to investigate a spate of financial love scams that have caused over US$30 million (about HK$234 million) in losses to Taiwanese targets.

Fighting this new type of cross-border fraud will require the cooperation of all three administrations, and sits in contrast to mounting recent tensions over Beijing’s desire for closer political links.

According to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, suspects based in China and Hong Kong used social media to start romantic relationships with victims in Taiwan, and then coaxed them to invest in fake financial companies.

Over 500 local people have been swindled since January last year, with the losses totaling over $30 million, including one victim who lost $2 million, the bureau said.

Targets were encouraged to wire money to Hong Kong-based bank accounts — opened by Hongkongers or mainland Chinese — on the understanding it would be invested in stocks, foreign currencies, gold, or futures.

Spurred on by good investment returns displayed on fake websites, victims would then pour in money until they asked to redeem it in vain, the bureau said.

“The suspects used social media to add Taiwanese people as ‘friends’… and gradually lured the victims with cyber honey traps to gain their trust and emotional involvements,” it said in a statement.

Huang Ming-Chao, the bureau’s commissioner, said Taiwanese police are seeking cooperation from Hong Kong and Chinese police for a joint investigation, although they have yet to respond.

Without such cooperation “similar cases would keep happening,” he added.

Taiwan and China in 2009 signed a joint crime-fighting and judicial assistance agreement, under the oversight of the former Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government.

However, relations have grown frosty since President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in Taiwan 2016, as she has refused to acknowledge that the self-ruled country is part of “one China.”

Taiwanese cooperation with Hong Kong, meanwhile, is also a bit of a sore subject at the moment, after Taiwanese prosecutors sought help from Hong Kong police in the high-profile case of a Hong Kong woman who was murdered by her boyfriend while they were on vacation in Taiwan.

In response, the Hong Kong government pushed a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China in the wake of the murder case, setting off massive demonstrations — and an ongoing political crisis — spurred by Hongkongers’ fears of being tangled up in the mainland’s notoriously opaque legal system.

Romance scams of the sort perpetrated against Taiwanese victims have also proven to be a homegrown problem for Hong Kong as well, with police stats noting they surged some 250 percent in 2018. In March, a Hong Kong woman sued five men in an attempt to recover some US$42,000 she lost in a romance scam.

 

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