Saturday, June 22, 2024

14 Common OFW Scams Targeting Filipinos in Hong Kong

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As new OFWs, meeting friends can help us navigate the new world of working abroad. They can provide guidance and answer questions. However, OFW scams can include new friends trying to steal your money, destroy relationships or even cause your employment termination. So before you put your trust in these friends, be aware of possible outcomes.

Scams that target Filipino workers in Hong Kong are fraudulent activities designed to deceive or cheat Filipino workers who are living and working in Hong Kong.

Background information on the issue of scams

It’s no secret that scams have been a persistent problem around the world. Recent years have seen an increase in scams targeting Filipino workers, especially those working overseas in Hong Kong. Often, these scams prey on vulnerable individuals who are far from their family and support networks, such as fake job offers, investment schemes, and immigration scams.

The rise of social media and digital technology has made scams targeting Filipino workers more prevalent. Using these platforms, scammers can reach a bigger audience and create more convincing fake personas, making it easier for them to deceive. Additionally, Filipino workers may not have reliable information or resources to help them identify and avoid scams, making them more vulnerable.

Scams can ruin Filipino workers’ lives. Financial and emotional distress can result when victims lose their hard-earned savings or fall victim to identity theft. Filipino workers can’t trust legitimate sources of information or support because these scams erode their trust in institutions and organizations.

Importance of discussing the topic of scams targeting Hong Kong OFWs

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Scams that target Filipino workers are crucial because they highlight the risks Filipino workers face overseas. There’s no denying that these scams are devastating, causing financial and emotional harm to the victims. This will raise awareness of the different types of scams out there and how to avoid falling for them.

Furthermore, talking about these scams can help Filipino workers become more financially literate. Many scams target people who don’t understand financial concepts, making them more susceptible to high-pressure sales tactics. Making Filipino workers aware of how to manage their money can help them avoid falling for these scams.

It’s also important to report these scams. It’s easy for scammers to operate with impunity when victims feel embarrassed or scared to report these incidents. Creating a safe and supportive environment for victims can help us hold scammers accountable.

Additionally, discussing scams that target Filipino workers can help advocate for policy changes. By highlighting gaps in policy and regulation, we can make policy changes that help overseas Filipino workers. Then Filipino workers can work in Hong Kong and other countries in a safer environment.

Common scams targeting Hong Kong OFWs

Investment scam

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Investment scams are prevalent in Hong Kong and have affected many Filipino Workers who are looking for ways to invest their hard-earned money. Scammers often use a variety of tactics to gain the trust of their victims and convince them to invest their money in fake investment opportunities.

One example of an investment scam that has targeted OFWs in Hong Kong is the Ponzi scheme. This scheme involves promising high returns on investment and using the investments of new victims to pay off the returns of earlier investors. The scammer often presents themselves as a trusted and experienced investor and uses referral programs to attract more victims. Eventually, the scheme collapses, and victims lose their entire investment.

Another example of an investment scam is the pyramid scheme. In this scheme, victims are encouraged to recruit more investors and earn commissions for doing so. The scammer often promises high returns on investment, but the scheme relies on the continuous recruitment of new investors to keep the scheme afloat. Eventually, the scheme collapses, and victims lose their investments.

Passport loan scam

Never lend your passport to anyone. Our passport needs to be taken care of. It serves as our entry document coming to a foreign country. With a 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 a cash loan, be prepared to pay for this loan yourself — when this ‘friend’ suddenly makes a disappearing act.

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, the 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.

OFW scams can also involve your very own passport
OFW scams can also involve your very own passport.

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 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?

Boarding house scam

Some Filipinas in Hong Kong agree to sublet subdivided homes so they can spend time cooking, sleeping, and doing other recreational activities during their days off. At a minimal cost, 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 arrangements with other parties increase the risk of losing money, jewelry, or maybe other people using your shampoo or opening your canned goods.

Love offering scam

On 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 a 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 homemade rice cakes, under the premise that proceeds will go to less fortunate brethren.

Loan sharing 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 the agreement was between you and the loan company. Another variation includes a friend asking that you loan a laptop or mobile phone and she’ll pay you later.

SIM card sharing 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 a data plan to surf the Internet non-stop.

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 a raffle draw you are unfamiliar with or didn’t join at all. Just stay away from these types of communication.

Chat mate scam

You may be hooked on Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram. 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 the 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 the money is involved, you should be warier about letting go of your money.

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 a 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 on 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.

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 for the pageant, you’ll be asked to sell tickets (you pay for all unsold ones).

Filipino workers in Hong Kong

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.

Mailbox identity 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, a loan company contacts your employer, thereby risking your job and reputation as a good worker.

Job scam

Usually, these scams promise a high-paying job abroad, but in reality, the job doesn’t exist or isn’t what was advertised. There are a lot of ways scammers get their victims’ trust, including fake job postings, fake recruiters, and promises of quick, easy jobs.

Fake recruitment agencies are one of the most common job scams. A scammer may pose as a recruiter or employment agency and offer a job abroad that pays a lot. Scammers often charge a fee for recruitment services, but once they pay, they disappear and the job never happens.

The work-from-home scam is another job scam. Basically, the victim is promised a high income and the opportunity to work from home. The scammer usually wants the victim to pay for training or equipment, then disappears after the victim pays.

There are scammers who pose as employers and offer jobs that require the victim to work long hours or in dangerous conditions for very little money. Scammers will also ask victims to pay for their own travel expenses and visa fees, leaving them in a pickle.

Tactics and techniques used in scams

Scammers use a variety of tactics to trick and deceive their victims

Emotional manipulation

Often, scammers use emotional manipulation to get their victims to trust them. It’s not uncommon for them to play on their victims’ fears, hopes, or desires to get them to do something.

Urgency

Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure their victims into making quick decisions. They may use phrases like “limited time offer” or “act now” to create a sense of urgency and convince the victim that they need to act fast.

Trustworthiness

People and organizations who scam people often appear trustworthy and reliable. Their fake credentials, certifications, and testimonials make them look legit.

Phishing

Scammers often use phishing techniques to steal personal information from their victims. They may use fake emails, websites, or social media accounts to trick their victims into sharing their personal information.

Impersonation

It’s common for scammers to impersonate legitimate people or organizations to get their victims’ trust. The scammers pose as government agencies, banks, or well-known companies to get you to give them your personal info.

Advanced fee scams

Scammers often require their victims to pay a fee upfront for a promised service or product. They may use this tactic to steal money from their victims without providing anything in return.

False promises

Often, scammers make false promises to get their victims to do something. For their victims to invest money or share their personal info, they might promise high returns on investment, a dream job, or a chance to win.

Impact of Scams on Filipino workers

Financial impact

There’s a good chance that the victim will lose a lot of money because of scams. Many scammers get their victims to invest in fake businesses or pay upfront fees for a service or product. If the scam is revealed, the victim ends up with significant financial losses, which can be devastating for Filipino workers.

Emotional impact

It’s also possible for scams to have a big emotional impact on the victim. The victims of scams may feel shame, embarrassment, and anger at themselves for falling for it. Especially for Filipino workers working overseas, this can have a big impact on their mental health and well-being.

Trust issues

Also, scams can cause trust issues for victims, especially if the scammer is someone they trust, like a family member or friend. As a result, the victim may have trouble trusting others in the future, resulting in social isolation.

Family impact

Scams can also have a significant impact on the victim’s family. Many Filipino workers send money home to support their families, and significant financial losses can have a ripple effect on the entire family. Scams can also create stress and anxiety for family members who are worried about their loved one’s safety and well-being.

Where to seek help

Both the Philippine and Hong Kong authorities offer various levels of help to assist Filipino scam victims in Hong Kong.

  • The Hong Kong Police Force has a dedicated unit, the Commercial Crime Bureau, that investigates various types of scams, including those that target Filipino workers. Victims of scams can report to the police through their hotline number: +852-2860-5012 or email them at ccb-td@police.gov.hk.
  • Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group – This organization is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cybercrime-related cases, including online scams. Victims of online scams can contact them through their hotline numbers: (02) 414-1560 or (02) 414-2199.
  • Department of Justice – The DOJ is responsible for the prosecution of fraud and other criminal offenses. Victims of scams can report the incident to the DOJ through its Action Center Hotline: 1349 or email them at actioncenter@doj.gov.ph.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission – The SEC is responsible for regulating and monitoring investment schemes and other related activities. If you are a victim of an investment scam, you may contact the SEC at their hotline number: (02) 8818-6337.
  • National Bureau of Investigation – The NBI is responsible for investigating crimes in the Philippines, including scams. Victims of scams can report to their Fraud and Action Division through their hotline numbers: (02) 8523-8231 to 38 or email them at nbi_fad@nbi.gov.ph.
  • Philippine Overseas Labor Office – This office provides assistance to Filipino migrant workers who are victims of scams or other forms of exploitation overseas. They can be contacted through their hotline number: +852-9155-4023 or email them at polo_hk@yahoo.com.

OFW scams are everywhere

In case you are not yet aware, OFW scams do not only happen in Hong Kong. They come in different shapes and sizes and take advantage of whatever vulnerability a newcomer has. So while it’s always good to have a new friend, always be on the lookout for tell-tale signs similar to the scams described above.

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