- Powered by Yip Tse & Tang, Solicitors & Notaries 葉謝鄧律師行

« May 2004 | Main | July 2004 »

Internet and Email Scams

Sometime in 2004, the Hong Kong Police managed to get hold of a Nigerian who have succeeded in cheating a lawyer employed at a leading Hong Kong law firm. The scam is widely known at “Nigerian Scam”. The police commented that it is hardly believable that someone could have been cheated in that way.

The power of the Internet has made it all too easy for these scams to flourish. The perpetuators can send thousands of emails without cost and then wait for someone to response. Sometimes, you may even receive the same messages by different email accounts you use.

Those looking for big business or easy big money (often falsely claimed to be having millions of US dollars) are often tempted by these scams. The scam messages sounds that you can get big money easily. If you are really tempted to take part it will inevitably make you lost money.

These scams often reach your business email box unsolicited and pretend to be highly confidential and private. They are typically known as "Nigerian Scam" or “Lotto Scams”. The tactics are the same although the “stories” may be different.

The “Westpac Bank Scam” is extremely dangerous because it will extract your ebanking details by posing as the valid Westpac Internet Banking site. Recently, perpetrators has begun the same scam with the St George Bank. In Hong Kong, quite a number of faked bank sites were discovered by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. All pretended to be sites licensed to practiced in Hong Kong.

The Lotto Scam

The Lotto Scam will send you an email announcing that you are the lucky winner of a lottery win, which could exceed 1 million US dollars, even though you have not participated before. The senders claim to be the lawful lottery companies and of course these claims are false and the emails are also false.

The following are instances pretending to be coming from the following lottery companies:

  • International UK Lotto.
  • Lottery La Primitiva from Madrid.
  • Lottery Winners International even involves Bill Gates!
  • nternational Lottery Netherlands.
  • Net Lottery International
  • Overseas Stakes Lotto International scam
  • If you respond, an application form will be sent to you for your filling. The blanks will seek information about your bank account or ask you to pay a sizable sum of money to cover security, insurance, or administration costs. When they have obtained your information and your money, you would no longer hear from them.

    Foreign legislations on digital signatures

    Examples of foreign legislation concerning the effect and validity of digital signatures includes:

    United States:

  • Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA)
  • Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN), at 15 U.S.C. 7001 et seq.
  • England and Wales

  • Electronic Communications Act 2000

  • Decided cases

    Despite the fact that Hong Kong has introduced the Electronic Transactions Ordinance in 2001, there has been no decided case relating to the validity and use of digital signatures.

    There are limited number of court decisions in foreign countries talking about the effect and validity of digital signatures or their related legislation:

  • re Piranha, Inc., 2003 WL 21468504 (N.D. Tex) (UETA does not preclude a person from contesting that he executed, adopted, or authorized an electronic signature that is purportedly his).

  • Cloud Corp. v. Hasbro, 314 F.3d 289 (7th Cir., 2002) (E-SIGN does not apply retroactively to contracts formed before it took effect in 2000. Nevertheless, the statute of frauds was satisfied by the text of E-mails plus an (apparently) written notation.)

  • Sea-Land Service, Inc. v. Lozen International, 285 F.3d 808 (9th Cir., 2002) (Internal corporate E-mail with signature block, forwarded to a third party by another employee, was admissible over hearsay objection as a party-admission, where the statement was apparently within the scope of the author's and forwarder's employment.)

  • US Truth in Domain Names Act

    The US Truth in Domain Names Act, in combination with the PROTECT Act, forbids knowingly using a misleading domain name with the intent to attract people into viewing a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct on the Internet.

    Hong Kong does not have similar legislation. This is because posting sexually explicit photos on the Internet is an offence under the Control of Obscene Articles Ordinance. Posting amounts to 'publication' as defined in the Ordinance.

    Hong Kong Digital Entertainment Association

    Established in 1999, the Hong Kong Digital Entertainment Association (HKDEA) is a non-profit making trade body and is dedicated to the betterment of the local digital entertainment industry. The association is based at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and was initially supported through a grant by the Innovation Technology Commission of the HKSAR. HKDEA's missions are:

  • To promote technology development within the digital entertainment industry in order to create internationally competitive products;

  • To explore and develop new markets;

  • To eliminate the negative images associated with playing video games;

  • To discourage software piracy;

  • To facilitate communication and interaction between industries associated with digital entertainment, including toys, entertainment and video games.
  • Formed in 1999, the HKDEA was created during a time when there are relatively few local video games developers. As an ever-expanding industry that is still in the infant age, we believe that there are lots of opportunities for new start-ups, as well as existing developers to expand. The HKDEA was thus established to provide a mechanism upon which local developers could cooperate to ensure industry-wide prosperity. and Corporate Community Participation was set up by Yip, Tse & Tang, Solicitors and launched in 1999. It is constituted by partners and solicitors of Yip, Tse & Tang, Solicitors.

    Its objective is to serve the public and its clients through the Internet as an open and freely accessible international infrastructure. Yip, Tse & Tang was selected by the ITS Department, HKSAR Government as a Reference Case on use of e-commerce on professional services.

    Yip, Tse & Tang was awarded the Caring Company Logo 2003/04 by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in recognition of their effort in demonstrating good corporate citizenship and contributing to a caring community.

    Photo: Representatives of Yip, Tse & Tang, Thomas Tse (partner) and Pierre Sun (Solicitor) receive the Caring Company Certification at the public ceremony.

    Yip, Tse & Tang becomes a leading law firm on bankruptcy legal service.

    In about 30 months' time since its inception in August 2001, Yip, Tse & Tang has represented over 4,000 debtors in bankruptcy petitions. Bankruptcy applications will be heard in 3 to 4 months time. "Our lawyers are knowledgeable about the effects of bankruptcy order on bankrupts. A special web-site has been set up dedicated purely to bankruptcy subjects," said Thomas Tse, the creator of and partner of Yip, Tse & Tang heading the personal insolvency practice of the firm. has been featured by over 10 local and international newspapers or magazines, including Reuters, BBC and Le Monde. Solicitors of the bankruptcy team were interviewed by TVB, ATV, Cable TV, RTHK, Commercial Radio and MetroRadio Broadcast on debt or bankruptcy subjects on many occasions.

    The financial storm in 1997 has resulted in the decline of the Hong Kong economy. Many people have become the victims of that. The HKSAR Government has failed to offer any help to them. Many are indebted to lenders millions of dollars. In view of the bad employment situation and the deteriorating economy, self-bankruptcy is perhaps the only viable option for them. Yip, Tse & Tang charges $4500 as their professional charges. Visit to know more details.

    Corporate Training on ECommerce Laws, Hong Kong

    The advent of the Internet as a popular platform on electronic business has brought about demand of the corporations on e-commerce law training. Since 1999, Mr. Thomas Tse has been providing training lessons to corporations' managers, IT personnel, SMe executives and legal professionals on laws relating to the Internet, e-commerce and technology. The organisers were Hong Kong Productivity Council, Trade Development Council, Open University of Hong Kong (LiPACE) and Hong Kong Economic Times. There have been over 100 hours of presentations since made.

    Corporate training content can be tailored made for different requirements. More information can be obtained by contacting by e-mail at .

    Instances on Spamming

    Goods commonly adopting spamming include pornography, medical products particularly Viagra, debt elimination and loans offering. Sometime.spam is also used for a vehile for crimes e.g. scams such as stock pump-and-dump schemes, pyramid schemes and the Nigerian money transfer fraud.

    What is spamming

    Spamming is the act of sending unsolicited electronic messages in bulk, whether for commercial or non-commercial purpose. Sending unsolicited messages does not confine to emails. It happens with postal junk mails and junk fax. Pure spamming is not an offence in Hong Kong. The Office for Telecommunications Authority released a consultation paper to the public on 25th June 2004 with the wish to making spamming an offence.

    Spam by emails is the most often seen form of spamming on the Internet. Emails are delivered with contents or messages for commercial advertising. Because of the little cost on sending email emails in massive scale, Non-commercial junk emails are also found.

    It must be noted that sending unsolicited emails is not the only medium of spamming. Other media includes: instant messaging (such as ICQ or Yahoo Messaging), Usenet newsgroups and forum (message borads. Responsible service providers on Internet service has a set of rules or know-how to monitor and regulate the use of the Internet as a spamming tool. The examples are Yahoo!, ICQ a hotmail.

    Hong Kong Judiciary: Judgments and Legal Reference

    Judgments from the following courts delivered between 1946 and 1948, and from 1968 onwards are available on this web site :

  • Court of Final Appeal (since its establishment in 1997)
  • Court of Appeal of the High Court
  • Court of First Instance of the High Court
  • District Court
  • Family Court
  • Lands Tribunal
  • In the normal course of event, a judgment will be available on this web site within 72 hours of its handing down. Cases of great importance or public interest will be put under "New Judgments" on the same day of their delivery.

    Visit: Hong Kong Judiciary: Judgments and Legal Reference

    The Laws of Hong Kong: BLIS

    This has been the Bilingual Laws Information System (BLIS) on the Internet prepared and hosted by the Department of Justice of Hong Kong for free public access since November 9, 1997. BLIS contains the Laws of Hong Kong in both Chinese and English.

    Users can search and retrieve the Ordinances and Sub-Legislation from BLIS. This service is free of charge. 

    Visit BLIS

    Hong Kong Legal Information Institute (HKLII)

    Hong Kong Legal Information Institute (HKLII)

    The Hong Kong Legal Information Institute (HKLII - pronounced 'H K Lee') is a free access legal information system developed and jointly operated by the University of Hong Kong Department of Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS) and Faculty of Law, with the kind assistance of the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII).

    HKLII's mission is to provide free access to primary legal materials from Hong Kong (and some publicly available secondary materials) by use of technology that is both easy to use and powerful in the diversity of materials that it covers.

    The system is based on data obtained from sources in Hong Kong and the region. Mark-up, processing, database structure, search engine facilities, and some other aspects of technical infrastructure are adapted from software provided by AustLII. The Hong Kong, China and Taiwan pages (and some subject pages) of the World Law index are jointly prepared by HKU Faculty of Law and AustLII. The day to day operation of HKLII is carried out by HKU CSIS Department. The overall facility is managed jointly by HKU CSIS Department and Faculty of Law.

    Telephone message in grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character

    A stalker may harass the victim by making persistent telephone calls. Such conduct amounts to harassment regardless of the content of the calls. If the content is obscene, threatening or objectionable, the harassment is all the greater. Harassment by oral or written communications may be caught by the following statutory offences:

    a) sending any telephone message which is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”(section 20 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228);

    b) sending any telephone message, which he knows to be false, for the purpose of “causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person”(section 20 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228);

    c) persistently making telephone calls without reasonable cause and for the purpose of “causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person”(section 20 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228);

    d) transmitting a “false distress, urgency, safety or identification signal” knowing it to be false or with intent to deceive(Telecommunication Ordinance (Cap 106), section 28);

    Comments by the Law Reform Commission

    These provisions are of assistance to a stalking victim because the stalker may not threaten him or her but may merely be obscene or vulgar, or merely cause him or her annoyance or inconvenience. Prosecuting under such provisions may deter non-violent stalkers from future harassing behaviour or defuse a stalking situation because the stalker now knows that his behaviour is illegal and the police are aware of his existence.

    However, the penalty under the telephone statutes is inadequate to reflect the culpability of a persistent offender where his conduct has impaired the victim's health. All three offences in (a) to (c) above are summary offences carrying a maximum custodial sentence of only 2 months’ imprisonment.

    The offences in (b) and (c) require the prosecution to prove that the accused made the calls “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety” to any other person. Obsessional stalkers who harass their victims by making telephone calls may lack the requisite purpose; they may simply seek to negotiate with the victim or to force the victim to recommence a prior relationship. In any event, the offences fail to catch stalkers who harass their victims by sending a large volume of unwanted faxes and e-mail. Likewise, a stalker, who harasses his victim by sending messages to one or more Internet newsgroups revealing the victim's telephone numbers and residential address and at the same time soliciting sexual service in the name of the victim, would not be caught by these offences.

    HKSAR v. KO KAM FAI - [2001] HKCA 204; CACC000083/2001, 20 June 2001

    This is a Court of Appeal judgment.

    On 16 February 2001, the Applicant pleaded guilty in the District Court to:-

  • two charges of criminal intimidation, contrary to section 24 of the Crimes Ordinance, Cap. 200 (the Ordinance) and

  • eight charges of criminal damage, contrary to section 60(1) of the Ordinance.
  • On 19 February 2001, Deputy Judge Ma sentenced the Applicant to concurrent terms of twelve months for each offence of criminal intimidation (charges 5 and 6) and four months on each of the criminal damage charges (charges 1 to 4, 8, 10, 12 and 14).

    The Applicant sought leave to appeal against sentence on two grounds, complaining that the sentence was manifestly excessive on the two counts of criminal intimidation.


    Two victims were involved by the Applicant through his criminal acts. Both victims were female(X and Y). They were undergraduates at the Hong Kong University where they shared the same dormitory. Each of them had an e-mail account with the university computer system.

    The offences were committed between September 1998 and May 1999. On a number of occasions between those dates, the Applicant hacked into X and Y's e-mail accounts at the University. In X's case, some of the data stored in her computer was transferred to the Applicant's computer, including a photograph of herself. In Y's case, the Applicant was able to interfere with the operation of her computer's mouse. In both their cases, data was altered by the Applicant's infiltration of their computers. Their e-mail accounts were overloaded to the point that they became inoperative as a direct result of the number of e-mails the Applicant had sent to them. These e-mails included highly obscene articles and pictures and other sexually explicit material.

    Amongst the e-mails sent by the Applicant to X and Y was a message which read:

    "Don't you believe that I will go to your hall to rape you."

    X and Y were very frightened by this.

    The offences contrary to sections 60(1) and 24 of the Ordinance with which the Applicant was charged carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years' imprisonment respectively although, in the circumstances of this case, it was the two offences in the latter category, i.e. the intimidation offences, which were by far the more serious.

    The judge, in passing sentence, equated the offences committed by the Applicant with offences brought under section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance. It goes without saying that none of the offences in this case was brought under that section of the Ordinance which provides for a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment for accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent. It is in this context that, in his first ground of appeal, Mr Philip Wong, on behalf of the Applicant, contended that the judge erred in principle in drawing support from HKSAR v Tam Hei-lun [2000] 3 HKC 745, for his view that the offences committed by the Applicant should be dealt with by imprisonment unless there were most unusual circumstances making a custodial sentence inappropriate. Tam Hei-lun was concerned with offences brought under section 161 of the Ordinance. This error, he submitted, was compounded by a failure to consider a basic principle of sentencing that a defendant who has pleaded guilty should only be sentenced on the plea he has entered and on the basis which the prosecution has accepted (See: R v Booker [1982] 4 Cr. App R (S) 53.)

    The acts of criminal intimidation, by accessing X and Y's computers, was a serious invasion of their privacy and the consequences of such acts were likely to be not only extremely upsetting but also very alarming to both of them. We find ourselves in full agreement with the sentencing judge's sentiments that a deterrent sentence for this kind of conduct was called for.

    The lower sentences for the criminal damage charges, although there is no appeal in relation to them, was a reflection by the judge of the short-term nature of the damage done to the computers. The gravamen of the offences lay in the criminal intimidation charges.

    The application was dismissed.

    Coram: Hon Stuart-Moore VP and Stock JA
    Date of Hearing: 20 June 2001
    Date of Judgment: 20 June 2001