Hong Kong police have alleged that scammers are touting dog meat sales in order to lure people into downloading a malicious mobile app. The police received 11 reports from apparent victims claiming to have lost over HK$1.36 million in total.

During a press conference on Monday, Ip Cheuk-yu, acting superintendent of the cyber security and technology crime bureau, said that two social media pages claiming to sell “fragrant meat” were connected to a scam involving the use of bogus apps designed to remotely control victim’s phones and steal banking credentials.

A Facebook page advertising a suspected sale of dog meat in a post created on November 17, 2023. Photo: Yuk Ding via Facebook.
A Facebook page advertising a suspected sale of dog meat in a post created on November 17, 2023. Photo: Yuk Ding via Facebook.

There is no evidence any dog meat was available, police said, and scammers may have hoped to lure animal lovers into investigating the illicit offerings.

As of last week, at least two Facebook pages were found to be advertising the sale of suspected dog meat for HK$328 per kilogram. In one of the ads, a cartoon dog is seen next to two pots of meat under a Chinese-language caption which says “fresh and delicious fragrant meat” – a colloquial term for dog meat.

The editing history, however, revealed that the post explicitly mentioned “dog meat” in a previous version. It sparked close to 5,000 angry reactions from Facebook users as of Monday, with many tagging the authorities in the comment section.

Malicious apps

“According to a police investigation, the use of the malicious apps involved in stealing people’s savings emerged as early as September,” Ip said in Cantonese.

He said fraudsters set up Facebook and Instagram pages promoting food, travel plans, and car rental services. Potential buyers were asked to install a mobile app designed to look like an e-commerce platform, which would request security permissions to control users’ phones. It also presented a fraudulent login page resembling those of banks.

He added that the e-commerce platform had frequently altered its name, using variations such as “No. One e-commerce”, “Hong Kong-Macau e-commerce”, and “88 Grocery Store”.

Since mid-September, police received reports from 11 people regarding the alleged scam. Nine of them reported losses between HK$9,000 and HK$415,000, totalling more than HK$1.36 million. No one has been arrested so far, Ip said.

Hong Kong Police. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Hong Kong Police Force. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The largest loss was suffered by a man in his sixties, who came across an advertisement for “decent-priced” instant noodles on social media, Ip said. The man downloaded the malware and later discovered that his savings had been transferred without his consent.

Police Chief Inspector Lau Ngo-chung said that the apps would request “full-access” to users’ phones. Once granted, the fraudsters could remotely unlock and manipulate the device, even when it appeared to be locked.

He said that, after victims made orders via the apps, they would also be directed to a fake payment page and asked to enter their banking credentials.

Lau urged the public not to download apps from unauthorised parties and to avoid granting excessive permissions to apps. He also advised potential victims to restore their phones to factory settings.

According to police data, fraud-related crime in Hong Kong has risen since the Covid-19 pandemic begun in 2020. In the first half of this year, there were 18,743 cases reported to the police, higher than the whole-year figure in 2020 and close to that in 2021. In 2022, there were 27,923 cases, a record high.

The AFCD issued a statement on Sunday, saying it had noted advertisements for suspected dog meat and had launched an investigation.

The slaughtering of dog and cat for food, or the sale of their flesh, is illegal in Hong Kong. Offenders could face a maximum fine of HK$5,000 and up to six months in prison.

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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.