Little Hong Kong: Why do people keep falling for Chinese phone scams? (Part 44)

You receive a phone call from a random number.  When you pick up, you hear a recorded message in Mandarin, purportedly from a courier company saying that you have a package detained by the mainland customs.  It then directs you to a Mandarin speaking mainland official who says that you’re under investigation for smuggling illegal contents and asks you to deposit money to a bank account to prove your innocence.

Will you pay a mainland official to prove your innocence?

I bet almost everyone with a Hong Kong number has received one of these messages.  In the first half of 2017, HK$440m have been defrauded through these telephone scams.  But why do people fall for them?  To figure out why, let’s even assume that these calls are genuine and not scams.  Let’s say a mainland official asks you to pay him HK$1m to prove your innocence from a crime.  Will you pay him the money as instructed?

Wait, are you trying to bribe a public official?

Let’s analyse this.  Firstly, if you did commit the crime, you’re bribing him to make the problem go away.  And if you didn’t commit the crime, he’s extorting you, threatening that he’ll frame you for something you didn’t do.  Either way, you are contributing to a system of corruption by paying him.  You become a part of the problem.  In light of President Xi’s war on corruption, I don’t think this lowly official can get away with this.

Do mainland agents have jurisdiction in Hong Kong?

Secondly, if you’re in Hong Kong, the mainland official has no jurisdiction over you under the Basic Law.  Even if you did break the law in the mainland, there is currently no extradition arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland.  If he arrests you in Hong Kong, he’d contravene the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.  I doubt he would get the relevant approval from his superiors for enforcing PRC laws in Hong Kong.

Even if he is indeed a Chinese official and you do pay him, there’s no guarantee that paying will make the problem go away.  You just can’t be certain you’re bribing the right person with influence.  What if the official gets arrested for corruption and he calls you out for bribing him, and the matter eventually gets referred to the Hong Kong Police?  Bribery is in fact a criminal offence in Hong Kong, so ironically, you’re the one committing an offence in Hong Kong.

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