A group of three con-artists reportedly stole €1 million (HK$8.65 million) from a businessman in Hong Kong by swapping out his cash with fake bills after they were commissioned to help him sell a Vincent van Gogh painting.
The unnamed victim of the set-up ran a website selling high-value artwork sourced from overseas, one of them being a Van Gogh oil painting estimated to be worth around €5 million.
The scam began last month when one of the three swindlers contacted the businessman offering to find a buyer for the painting for €1 million in compensation. Days later, one of his partners, described as a white, English-speaking man, went to meet with the victim at his luxury Hong Kong flat, apparently to make sure that the man actually had €1 million to give.
“During the meeting, the banknotes were wrapped in a bag and then tied with brown adhesive tape before [the conman] signed on it,” a police source said in an SCMP report. “The money was then stored in a safe.”
Soon after, a meeting was arrange between the businessman and a French-speaking partner who’d come to his home to “finalize the deal and sign documents”.
“The victim was asked to show him the bundle [of money]. We believe the suspect swapped the bundle of real money with a bundle of blank papers when the victim’s attention was diverted,” the sources said.
The businessman became suspicious after he was unable to contact any of the three men. When he opened his safe on Monday night, he discovered the plastic bag contained a bundle of blank notes.
Police are now trying to find whether the conmen are based in Hong Kong or had traveled there to carry out the scam, which may make their capture a tad more difficult.
While it may not the most elaborate operation, art scams such as this have proven effective in the past. Sort of. A group of Shanghai-based conmen managed to swindle 3.5 million yuan from homeowners by selling them knockoff artwork at an inflated price, but were arrested in January.