12 Common Scams Targeting OFWs in Hong Kong

To new OFWs — mostly domestic helpers — working in Hong Kong, having new friends is one of the things we want to achieve so we can share our lives, ask questions and just be there to listen to us. But at the same time, these so-called friends could be prowling to take advantage of you. They can steal your money, destroy relationships or even cause your employment termination. So before you put your trust to these friends, be aware of possible outcomes.

1. Passport borrow scam
Never lend your passport to anyone. Our passport needs to be taken cared of. It serves as our entry document coming to a foreign country. With working visa properly stamped into one of its pages, your passport becomes a powerful weapon that will legally protect you from possible employer abuse. However, a friend could ask for your passport to obtain financial loans. Using your identity in borrowing sums of money, you are potentially allowing a friend to use your credibility to make money. And since you allow your passport to be used to obtain cash loan, be prepared to pay for this loan yourself — when this ‘friend’ suddenly makes a disappearing act.

2. Money loan scam
A friend’s friend you met in a gathering approaches you with a sad story to share (brother figured in an accident, house was destroyed in a typhoon) and asks if you know someone who can lend her money. While you’re not obligated to tell her if you don’t know anyone, you’ll be moved by her gestures (crying and all, panic and paranoia) so here comes your true Filipino trait, maawain and mapagbigay and try to offer her money by digging in your savings. Sadly, she soon disappears without a trace as she gets the money you offer. Sooner, you realize, your trait isn’t more about being maawain or mapagbigay but madaling maloko.

3. Sick parents scam
Just like the previous item, certain people within your circle of friends try the ploy of using relatives back home bedridden by some disease not particularly disclosed in order to solicit for mercy in the form of loose change and free meals. A self-anointed leader or the elderly “ate” begins to gesture the proverbial “pass the hat” for that worthy cause. A few months later when friends ask how was the bedridden mom, the unrepentant offender is prepared with her response “oh, she’s fine, thank you” while familiarizing a brand-new smartphone. Got the hint?

4. Boarding house scam
Some Filipinas in Hong Kong agree to a sublet subdivided homes so they can spend time cooking, sleeping and other recreational activities during their days off. At minimal cost of about HK$100 to HK$200 a month, the deal seems good enough to bond with close friends. But as days wear on, tenants realize that there are other occupants in the house during other days of the week. Such arrangement with other parties increase risk in losing money, jewelry or maybe other people using your shampoo or opening your canned goods.

5. Love offering scam
During Sundays, many Filipinos congregate in Central Hong Kong to enjoy a well-deserved day off. While standing by outside the subway station waiting for a friend, someone approaches and greets ‘good morning sister’, and asks if you can help build their church somewhere in Nueva Ecija, help educate children in Negros or aid victims of flash flood in Cagayan Valley. With coin bag or envelope on hand, it is implied that she expects help in monetary form. If you insist you’re not interested after figuring out she doesn’t have enough papers to support her claims, she does a backup plan of selling you some crunchy snacks or home-made rice cakes, under the premise that proceeds will go to less fortunate brethren.

6. Loan share scam
When a friend detects that you are planning to loan sums of money for whatever reason, she asks if she can join you and promises she’ll pay you monthly. If you’re kind enough or trust her words, feel free to give in to the offer. But beware, she’s off the hook while you’re contractually obliged to pay the loan since agreement was between you and the loan company. Other variation includes a friend asking that you loan a laptop or mobile phone and she’ll pay you later.

7. SIM card scam
If a friend knows you own multiple phones and may have extra SIM cards, you may offer that extra SIM card so there is no need for them to buy a new one. Alas, if that SIM card is under contract — by default roaming is activated and overseas SMS is enabled — you could end up paying for her bills while she is busy making calls or using data plan to surf the Internet non-stop.

8. SMS scam
You may receive a text message from a new number back in the Philippines purportedly from a family member who just updated his contact number. This person must have researched quite well about your family. Surprised yet encouraged by the new communication channel, you begin to give in to this person’s requests. But beware, this person may have no blood relation with you and is simply making money off under false pretenses. Telltale signs: asking you to transfer money to an unfamiliar recipient name through Western Union. Another form of SMS scam is that you receive a congratulatory message saying you won raffle draw you are unfamiliar with or didn’t join at all. Just stay away from these types of communication.

9. Chat mate scam
You may be hooked into Yahoo!, Skype or Facebook. And you meet someone you easily fall in love with. Then this person proposes to marry you, be your business partner or help you apply for a job in some popular destination such as USA, Canada or Europe. But the catch is that you need to shell out money “to make things happen”. He tells you he was employed in an oil depot in Nigeria and he was robbed so he needs you to send money. Or he has connections with a well-known employment agency and promises to expedite your papers if you send a certain amount of money. Once money is involved, you should be more wary about letting go of your money.

10. Balikbayan box scam
A friend preparing to send a box of goodies back home could be asking you if you have anything to send to your family as her box still has space available. You might find this a good opportunity to send box of chocolates or a pair of shoes to loved ones since this friend offers her box space for free. Typically, boxes arrive within 3-6 weeks. Yet, if you ask this friend if the box arrived, she could sound as though someone was cheating her. “The box hasn’t arrived yet!”, in a worrying voice. It could be that the box already arrived and she just denied it. Or she didn’t send any cargo box at all.

11. Beauty pageant scam
As it is your childhood wish to be part of a beauty pageant, you join a contest organized by the United Kalokohan Benevolent Association Hong Kong Chapter. You get to be seen by everyone on stage in your evening gown and swimming suit as you would expect. But you don’t win based on your talent and smart answers to questions. Instead, before you qualify in the pageant, you’ll be asked to sell tickets (you pay for all unsold ones). You’ll be crowned Reyna ng UKBAHKC if you were able to sell the most number of tickets. You win the loudest applause and brightest spotlight plus a piece of trophy.

12. Mailbox scam
A friend asks a favor if she could use your address — and your name — to identify her account (loan, mobile phone subscription, etc) because her employer doesn’t allow her to use their mailbox. You gladly oblige, not knowing the real intention of this so-called friend. As the friend refuses to pay the loan or honor her roaming bills worth thousands of dollars, she simply disappears from your radar. Ultimately, you become accountable for her deeds simply because her transaction is now associated to your address. Worse, loan company contacts your employer, thereby risking your job and reputation as a good employee.

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