Hong Kong Police blast dodgy-looking SMS to entire mobile userbase

09 Sep 2015

My mobile ball-and-chain buzzed last week with an SMS labeled "HK Police." As reported in the Hong Kong Free Press: "some users who received the message were suspicious of its origin and reported it to the Apple Daily," but neither the HKFP report nor their cited Apple Daily source listed the number of aggrieved users.

Hopefully a high figure, and certainly plus one as far as this journalist is concerned. While the HKP had the best of intentions, their unexpected and unsolicited text-message wasn't that different from a typical SMS scam. Right message, wrong format.

Unsolicited communication
The kneejerk reaction to unsolicited comms – whether SMS, e-mail, etc – should be suspicion. Scammers often pose as authority figures (banks, payment services, law enforcement) with an "urgent" message.

In this case, Hong Kong's primary law enforcement agency sent a Chinese-language message which translates as: "Police announcement: Beware of phone scams! If you receive calls from individuals claiming to be officers in law enforcement or other institutions asking for money or personal and bank information, do not believe it. If you suspect that you have been scammed, please contact the police immediately."

This is good advice. And the message has been buttressed with a wide range of media: public-service announcements on television and radio, printouts posted in residential building lobbies, and statements by both the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police force.

"In response to media enquiries on SMS about prevention of telephone deception sent through mobile network operators to citizens, [the Hong Kong] Police’s spokesman said [on] September 4 that Police attached great importance to combat telephone deception and strive to raise public awareness and alertness through multi-pronged publicity and education in cross-sectoral and multi-agency approach," said the HKP website.

The government website expanded further on law-enforcement efforts, including collaboration with Hong Kong's mainland counterparts. "Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo told reporters [that] Police have noticed a rising trend in telephone scams in recent months, adding they are cross-boundary crimes where most of the criminal acts are not committed in Hong Kong," said the government website. "He said officers have been sent to Guangdong and Beijing to liaise directly with their Mainland counterparts. Both sides have agreed to enhance intelligence exchange, establish a direct communication channel, and conduct regular meetings to discuss the latest developments."

Hong Kong: savvy userbase
The warning shot across the bow (the SMS) wasn't well planned. But we here in Hong Kong have proactive law enforcement, a Privacy Commission, and an independent judiciary. Our highly penetrated smartphone userbase has a metaphysical layer of body armor.

Scams will always exist – all we can do is raise awareness, and combat them.

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