Hong Kong police have teamed up law enforcement agencies in Poland, Slovakia and Nigeria to investigate an international commercial email scam to try to retrieve €1 million (HK$8.18 million) trainer Richard Gibson lost in the purchase of a horse.
According to a South China Post report, Initial investigations showed that the sum had been recovered in Poland and Slovakia and €600,000 had been transferred back to Hong Kong, sources with knowledge of the case told the Post.
“Related parties including overseas law enforcers and banks are still in the middle of negotiations on the return of the €400,000,” one source said.
In September, a horse owner in Hong Kong gave Gibson €1m to purchase a horse through an agent in Ireland.
It was possible scammers learnt of the business by hacking into Gibson’s computer or the agent’s computer, a source said.
“Fraudster(s) posing as the agent sent fictitious emails [very similar to the genuine emails] to the victim and requested him to transfer €600,000 to a bank account in Poland and €400,000 into another bank account in Slovakia,” the source said.
Gibson realised he was swindled two or three days later and made a report to police.
Crime-squad officers from Sha Tin police investigated the case that has been classified as “obtaining property by deception”.
Hong Kong police immediately sought help from their counterparts in Poland and Slovakia through Interpol.
“The money involved was held in the bank accounts by local authorities before it was removed by scammers,” the source said.
He said negotiations over the return of the €400,000 with related authorities in Slovakia was still on-going.
It is understood no arrests have been made.
Another source said it was rare to recover money in such commercial email scams.
“Due to the bank procedures, the money involved in this case was made available to withdraw or remove two days after the transfers and this helped us retrieve the funds,” he said.
It is understood the emails used to contact and cheat Gibson were sent out from Nigeria.
“We are still investigating with Nigerian authorities to check whether it was the original source,” he said.
Police urged businesspeople and companies to verify the identities of people they are in contact with.
“In addition to emails, they should also confirm the requests by phone or other means before making transfers,” the source said.
Police figures show the number of commercial email fraud cases dropped to 657 in the first nine months of last year, compared with 738 in the same period of 2015. But total losses in that period rose dramatically year on year, from HK$876m to HK$1.494 billion.
On Wednesday, Gibson said he wanted to put the whole matter of the internet scam on the record.
“This fraud has been a grave concern for me personally and has taken up a great deal of time with meetings and legal papers. It has not surprised me that my business has suffered as a result,” said Gibson, who has trained only two winners this season and sits in last place in the 24-strong trainers’ championship.
“It has also put a great deal of pressure on my family as the case involves significant sums of money. We have always acted with full integrity and honesty,” he said.