University’s new smartphone app allows Hongkongers to screen out scammers

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It works by cross-checking numbers in HKJunkCall’s database, which have been verified by police

A prototype smartphone app has been developed by City University to alert people to suspicious callers and protect them against possible fraudsters.

Hong Kong police approached university research team leader, Dr Jessica Li Chi-mei, after taking interest in a project she had developed in 2012 relating to financial fraud against the elderly.

The new app works by cross-checking numbers in HKJunkCall’s database, which have been verified by police. It then screens the number and alerts the receiver that the caller is suspicious.

A trial of the app was conducted between December last year and March this year. More than 70 per cent of trial participants said the mobile app was “helpful” and would recommend it to others. More than half said they felt safer with the app.

According to Li, most participants were elderly, retirees or university students – three groups considered to be most vulnerable to telephone scams.

“With promising results from the trial project, the CityU team is confident in pursuing a larger and more comprehensive project to help protect Hong Kong citizens against phone deception,” Li said.

Though police have repeatedly warned residents to be wary of telephone scams, people continue to fall victim and in some cases, lose millions of dollars to the con artists.

On Monday, an elderly woman lost almost HK$4 million after she was tricked into believing she was involved in a criminal case on the mainland. The fraudster told the woman to transfer money to a mainland bank account to prove her innocence.

The force recorded 1,138 telephone deception cases in 2016, down 60.5 per cent compared to 2015 figures. The total financial loss from phone scams also fell by HK$96 million to HK$220 million in 2016.

Earlier this year, the city’s police commissioner said fraudsters posing as mainland officials was still the main method of deception, accounting for more than half of all cases in 2016 with victims losing HK$203 million.

-SCMP