Hong Kong cryptocurrency customer burned in alleged HK$1 million ‘hell money’ scam

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Hong Kong police have arrested three workers at a currency exchange shop after a customer was allegedly shown stacks of “hell money” before transferring about HK$1 million worth of cryptocurrency.

The force’s technology crime division on Wednesday arrested three men, aged between 31 and 34, on suspicion of obtaining property by deception and confiscated 3,000 hell banknotes, a safe and a note counting machine at a shop in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Hell banknotes are a form of ceremonial paper money that is burned as an offering to ancestors or deities in traditional Chinese culture.

Police said they received a report from a man, 35, on April 12, claiming he had been unable to retrieve cash after selling about HK$1 million worth of the digital currency Tether, or USDT, at a shop in Tsim Sha Tsui that day.

Police confiscated 3,000 hell banknotes with a face value of HK$500. Photo: Handout

An investigation subsequently found that the suspects allegedly showed the victim stacks of hell banknotes with a face value of HK$500 and persuaded him to transfer about HK$1 million worth of USDT to a cryptocurrency wallet provided by them.

After receiving the virtual currency, the suspects made multiple excuses, declined to hand over cash as agreed and abruptly left the scene.

A person convicted of fraud under Hong Kong law is liable to up to 14 years’ imprisonment, while someone charged with obtaining property by deception faces up to 10 years behind bars.

The force urged residents to choose reputable cryptocurrency exchange shops when conducting transactions and to carefully inspect banknotes for security features.