Wong warns public not to trust phone calls & messages from purported ‘authorities’

2023-09-07 03:10     BY Yuki Lei    Comment:0

In view of the fact that the number of telecom and online fraud cases grew “significantly” in the first six months of this year, in which the number of phone scams and online scams increased by 125 and 53 cases from 34 and 296 recorded in the same period of last year to 159 and 349 respectively, Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak “solemnly” yesterday urged residents, tourists and non-local students in Macau never to trust phone calls or text messages from purported “authorities” asking them to transfer money to a secure bank account, which the police neither in Macau nor the mainland would, he stressed, never request.

According to Wong, who made the remarks during yesterday morning’s press conference about Macau’s 2023 first half-year crime statistics, at the S. Francisco Barracks, among the sharp increase in telecom and online frauds, Macau recorded a total of 111 phone scams involving purported “government officials”, an increase of 88 cases and 97 cases respectively compared with the same period in 2019 and last year. Wong revealed that the Judiciary Police received on Tuesday one more report about a scam that used a “traditional” ruse, in which a local resident was cheated out of seven million patacas. Wong said he felt “very sad” that even though the police have been running a high-intensity anti-fraud awareness campaign, there are still people falling for such scams.

Along with the rising number of concerts being held in Macau since the COVID-19 pandemic period, the city marked an increasing number of concert ticket scams from three cases in the first half of last year to 84 in the same period of this year, marking a year-on-year growth of 81 cases, while the number of computer fraud cases involving online credit card purchases rose to 65 cases, a year-on-year increase from the 110 and 109 cases recorded in the first half of 2019 and the same period of last year respectively, said Wong, who pointed out that the Judiciary Police (PJ), in conjunction with the local banking sector and police forces in the city’s neighbouring areas, stopped a total of 316 suspicious remittances in the first six months of this year, involving over 77.78 million patacas.

Overall, Macau’s police forces recorded 6,248 crimes in the first half of this year, a 25.4 percent, or 1,265 cases, year-on-year growth, but a drop of 9.7 percent, or 672 cases, in comparison with the same quarter in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Wong said: “The increase in the number of visitor arrivals and the recovery of the economy are believed to be the main factors causing the change in crime.”

Child sexual abuse cases mostly involve peers

In terms of the 6,248 crimes recorded in the first six months of this year, the press conference noted, 1,112 cases related to crimes against persons, resulting in a “slight” year-on-year growth of 0.9 percent, or 10 cases, among which 18 child sexual abuse cases were recorded, a “slight” year-on-year increase of just 5.9 percent, or one case, but a “major” year-on-year growth of 260 percent, or 13 cases in comparison with the first half of 2019, while the number of reported rape cases rose 42.9 percent year on year from 14 cases in the first six months of last year to 20 this year.

In recent years, consensual sex accounted for a “considerable” proportion of child sexual abuse cases, which mainly happened between peers, Wong underlined.

Child sexual abuse involves children aged under 14, according to Article 166 of the Macau Penal Code.

Family fights aren’t always domestic violence: Wong

Concerning the fact that among the 71 initially reported domestic violence cases in the first half of this year, only eight cases were finally confirmed as domestic violence after follow-up police investigations, Wong pointed out that fights between family members do not necessarily amount to domestic violence, adding that according to the law, the offence of domestic violence is constituted by physical, mental or sexual abuse, depending on the severity, and if it is serious, one of them may be sufficient to constitute an offence, while if the ill-treatment is not too serious, it must be continuous and habitual, or the offence will merely be listed as bodily harm.

Wong stressed that even though some cases of bodily harm caused by family members do not constitute domestic violence, the perpetrator would surely be punished in line with other kinds of offences.

Serious violent crimes such as “kidnapping”, “homicide” and “serious assault” remained at “zero or low” incidence in the first half of the year, said Wong, according to whom Macau recorded two murder cases between January and June, in which a local woman was killed by a Hong Kong man in March when she was providing commercial sex, while a mainland male illegal currency exchange dealer was murdered by a fellow gang member in a guestroom of a hotel in Cotai in May.

The police forces recorded 52 juvenile crimes in the first six months of 2023, up from 37 over the same period last year, with significant increases in cases of bodily harm and theft, recording 18 and nine cases respectively.

Police plan to criminalise illegal currency exchange deals

In response to the 8,124 reported illegal currency exchange cases in the first half of this year, nearly twice as many as in the same period last year, Wong said that the Judiciary Police were studying criminalising illegal currency exchange deals made in connection with or for the purpose of gambling, so as to strength their fight against such illegal activities through multiple channels.

According to Wong, tourists arrested for their involvement in illegal currency exchange businesses are prohibited from entering Macau for at least three years, while also being banned from entering local casinos for a period of time.

No rise in gambling-related cases due to unemployment

Meanwhile, concerning the assessment of the impact of the current situation in the gaming sector on Macau’s public security situation, Wong said that even though there was a rise in criminal investigations in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2022, the number was “significantly lower” than in the same period in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Macau, indicating that there has been no increase in gambling-related crimes due to the city’s unemployment rate which civil society is worried about, nor has there been any evidence that gaming industry workers have turned to engaging in criminal activities due to unemployment.

According to official statistics, Macau’s overall unemployment rate, which comprises local and non-resident workers (NRWs), stood at 2.6 percent in the May-July survey period.

In the first half of this year, no underground criminal gangs related to the gambling sector were found, Wong noted.

Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak announces this year’s H1 crime statistics during yesterday’s press conference at the S. Francisco Barracks. – Photo: Yuki Lei

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