Police have arrested a six people over suspected job scams that have seen dozens of Hongkongers allegedly trafficked to Southeast Asia.

Authorities said on Monday that they had apprehended a 29-year-old man for conspiracy to defraud. Five people – three males and two females aged 17 to 51 – were arrested over the same charge on Sunday.

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Photo: Finn Mund/Unsplash.

Two of the three males, aged 23 and 30, were suspected of being “core members” of a group behind the scams, while a 28-year-old female is believed to have published scam-related posts on social media, senior superintendent of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau Tony Ho told reporters on Sunday.

Reports of Hongkongers falling for employment scams in Southeast Asia have made headlines in recent days following thousands of cases in Taiwan of people being lured by the promise of lucrative employment overseas.

Authorities said the scams involved online posts or messages promising high-paying jobs abroad that did not require the applicant to meet education or job experience requirements.

tony ho senior superintendent police
Senior superintendent of Organised Crime and Triad Bureau Tony Ho addresses reporters about the Southeast Asian job scams on Sunday. Photo: Screenshot, via Hong Kong Police.

Once there, their passports are confiscated and they are made to engage in illegal work such as carrying out online fraud or investment scams.

“Because the whole scam operation is located overseas, there are certain difficulties for us to gather information and also to gather evidence to prosecute, or even to identify those suspects,” Ho said. “But we are using all platforms, including Interpol, to help us to know more, to gather more information and evidence against this deception operation.”

The Immigration Department set up a designated WhatsApp hotline on Saturday for victims or their families to request help.

37 cases received

To date, authorities have received calls for help from 37 victims, Under Secretary for Security Michael Cheuk said on an RTHK program on Monday morning.

Among them, the freedoms of 23 victims are restricted, including 14 in Myanmar and nine in Cambodia. Cheuk said their safety was “not at great risk.”

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Hong Kong International Airport. File photo: Tania Chan/HKFP.

The remaining fourteen were safe, with 11 already back in Hong Kong. Two willingly stayed abroad, while authorities were assisting with one person’s return.

“Generally all of these cases [involve] employment scams posted on different social media platforms and messaging apps. The content is ambiguous and it’s unclear who the employer is,” Cheuk said, adding that the jobs advertised involved working in industries such as gambling and real estate.

Authorities have stepped up education to inform members of the public about these scams, including putting up signs at bus stops for airport-bound buses, at the departure hall in the airport and the Immigration Department’s Personal Document Branch where passports are collected.

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Authorities have stepped up public education of overseas job scams across the city. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via Facebook.

“[We] hope Hong Kong people can be more alert… there is no such thing as jobs that don’t require education or work experience, but that [pay] a lot of money,” he added.

A pop-up message on the Immigration Department website also warns of “recent incidents in which Hong Kong residents were suspected to have been lured to Southeast Asian countries.”

Authorities said on Thursday that a taskforce has been set up to look into the cases and liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, and international police organisation Interpol.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.