90-year-old Loses $32 Million in Largest-Ever Phone Scam

A 90-year-old woman in Hong Kong has fallen victim to what could be the largest-ever phone scam after fraudsters posing as Chinese police conned her out of $32 million.

Investigators with the Kowloon East regional crime unit are said to have frozen bank accounts containing 9 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.1 million), but the scammers have made off with the rest, South China Morning Post reports.

The authorities said they arrested a 19-year-old university student on March 26, charging him as an an accomplice who first helped contacted the victim last July while posing as a public security official from mainland China.

The nonagenarian, who lives in a mansion in Hong Kong's most affluent neighborhood, known as The Peak, is cared for by two domestic helpers and a chauffeur, according to Ta Kung Pao.

The elderly resident was handed a cellphone and SIM card which the con artists used to contact her. She was told that her identity had been stolen and used to commit a serious offense in China.

Between August and January, she made 11 transfers to three bank accounts, handing the conmen over 250 million Hong Kong dollars ($32 million), Ta Kung Pao reported.

"The scammers told the victim to transfer funds into designated accounts for an asset audit," said Senior Inspector Cheung Man-hon of the Commercial Crime Bureau. She was told the process could take up to three months, and that the funds would be returned to her by May the latest.

Cheung said the fraudsters won the victim's trust with knowledge of her full name, identification number and phone number. She was desperate to clear her name, the investigator added.

The authorities were alerted to the scam when one of her helpers reported the suspicious behavior to the woman's daughter last month.

According to Cheung, at least one bank employee had questioned the victim's financial transactions, but after she claimed she was planning to buy another property, no further questions were asked.

The teenager arrested in connection with the crime told police that he only agreed to help the fraudsters after having fallen victim to a phone scam himself, losing 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,800) in the process.

It was unclear whether the con artists who allegedly used him were the same ones who had defrauded him. He has since been released on bail.

Hong Kong police handled 1,193 phone scam cases last year, accounting for 574 million Hong Kong dollars ($73.9. million), according to the Post.

Last week, city police arrested three suspects for allegedly perpetrating what was then the city's biggest phone scam, in which they allegedly stole 69 million Hong Kong dollars ($8.8 million) from the bank account of a 65-year-old woman.

Hong Kong Police Investigate Largest Fraud Case
The view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, also known as The Peak, the city's most affluent neighborhood. In Pictures Ltd./Corbis/Getty Images