Whenever we hear of people getting scammed, we respond with sympathy for the victims before carrying on with our lives, reassured by the belief that we’re not that gullible and that it’ll happen to anyone but us.
But no matter how outrageous these scams may appear in stories and reports, you’d be surprised just how successful their perpetrators are in duping the victims. Oftentimes, the elderly are the unfortunate victims, with their tendency of being more trusting and technologically inept cruelly exploited.
Below are 8 bizarre scams that succeeded in Singapore to watch out for.
Making its rounds around Singapore’s heartlands like Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, and Jurong is a so-called “household company” called 28 HOME from Hong Kong. The company’s reps target Cantonese-speaking seniors, using aggressive sales tactics to convince them to buy $100 goodie bags containing unnamed items.
As can be seen in this video shot in 2017, the salesman first collects money from the surrounding crowd of elders before handing over the bags, which are conveniently opaque to prevent people from seeing their contents.
Image credit: Garren Neo Zhe Kai
Although the bags’ contents are claimed to be valued at $400, it’s revealed that they contain ordinary household items like scissors and knives – which don’t even amount to $100.
Even after getting exposed on Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao in November 2017, 28 HOME brazenly continued its operations early this year.
Read more about the incident on Must Share News here.
So here’s the context: Local actor Mark Lee’s 5-year-old daughter Calynn Lee was hospitalised due to a kidney condition called glomerulonephritis. Mark Lee and his wife had set up a Facebook page to keep the concerned public updated on her condition.
Neither parent had intended to raise funds through public donations, which is why we can understand Mark Lee’s outrage at an unnamed person leveraging on Calynn’s plight to call for $200,000 in donations.
In a strongly-worded Facebook post, Mark Lee clarified that he had never asked the public for donations, expressing disgust towards the scammer’s immorality in exploiting his daughter’s plight for personal gain.
Unfortunately, before Mark Lee caught wind of the swindling, some people had taken the bait and donated to the fake donation drive, which was started by a person with the surname Yeo.
We’ve seen these SMSes before. We’re just going about our day, minding our business when we receive a WhatsApp message from an unsaved number offering loans at attractively low interest rates.
But answer to the call of these alluring texts and you may just find yourself the victim of a loan scam, where you’ll be instructed to deposit a fraction of the loan before it can be fully disbursed. Yet once the funds are transferred, they would immediately be withdrawn by the scammers, who will then be conveniently uncontactable after that.
Our elderly are especially vulnerable to such devious scams, with at least 713 of such scams reported just this year from January to September.
Back in 2010, 55-year-old Aisha Pari Mohamed Ayub hatched a devious scheme to get rich in her clothing shop.
Targeting the elderly in her neighbourhood, she cooked up a story that she needed to pay the Pakistani and Singaporean authorities to receive an inheritance left behind by her deceased father in Pakistan.
Aisha then asked her victims for money, promising to repay the “loans” with interest as a “courtesy gift” or “token of appreciation”. Though arrested in 2011, she not just escaped custody without requesting a bail extension, but also went on to concoct another long tale – this time about receiving money from the sale of her Saudi Arabian matrimonial home.
In total, Aisha managed to trick 22 elders of a whopping $1.7 million, most of whom were less educated and weren’t able to recognise her plaintive stories for the lies that they were. For cases like these, we should follow a general rule of thumb: “If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.”
This incident starts with a 70-year-old woman getting approached by a stranger on Facebook whom she described as having the looks of a movie star. Thinking it was a romantic fling, the woman was enamoured by his cajoles of “darling” and “sayang”.
Months after the first connection, the sweet-talking degenerated into calls for help, with the man explicitly asking for $10,000 to fund his friend’s sick child’s medical treatment. Believing him, the woman transferred $8,000 to him, pawning her jewellery to raise the amount.
To make matters worse, the woman was almost made into the trickster’s money mule, where she was to receive $9,000 from another person before transferring it to her fake lover’s account. The scheme was thankfully stopped in its tracks, as the person contacted the police in time.
Not specific to the elderly folk, we’ve all encountered this on Facebook at one point or another. When we login, we’re abruptly greeted by the sight of existing Facebook friends owning shiny new accounts.
These accounts are actually owned by scammers impersonating our friends, and they will usually message us asking for our phone numbers and service providers. With this information, the scammers will try to buy gaming credits or online gift cards.
The scammers then request to be sent 3-digit one time passwords (OTPs) for verification, and if we’re not careful, we’ll fall right into their trap, charged for transactions we didn’t make.
While we generally know better than to fall for such scams, our older, less tech-savvy parents and grandparents wouldn’t. ID-ing such fake profiles isn’t that difficult, however: A profile empty except for the profile picture and friends list is a dead giveaway.
This incident is particularly sinister, with the scammers making contact with the victim both over the phone and in person. The victim is an 80-year-old woman, who first received a phone call informing her that she had an illegal parcel overseas, and was threatened with imprisonment.
The solution to avoid ending up in jail? Remitting a whopping $180,000 to a beneficiary in China. The old lady was physically escorted to Hanshan Money Express by a younger woman, but luckily for her, the quick-thinking remittance teller sensed something amiss and refused to perform the transaction.
A police report was subsequently made, and the old woman’s money was returned to her.
In the first 5 months of 2017, at least 269 reports of credit-for-sex scams were made, with victims losing more than $762,000 in total. The scams followed a set pattern, beginning with the fraudsters posing as attractive women, befriending would-be victims on social media platforms like WeChat.
The victims were then asked to purchase online shopping credits or gift cards via AXS machines or convenience stores in exchange for a meet-up, date, or even sexual services. In some cases, the victims were instructed to directly transfer cash to local bank accounts as deposits instead.
The scam often culminated with the victims making multiple payments without ever meeting the women they had met online.
If the above cases are anything to go by, what we can learn is this: Anyone is susceptible to scams, with our elderly folk being especially vulnerable – their trusting natures only mean that they are quicker to believe the lies scammers feed to them.
With a total of $157 million lost to the deceitful schemes of scammers, National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and the Police have come together to wage a war against them – but they can’t win without the most crucial component: You.
As Mad-Eye Moody would put it, “constant vigilance” is of the utmost importance. Traps used by scammers have become increasingly complex with the ever-changing times, and this means the onus is on you to keep both yourself and your loved ones updated to avoid falling prey to scams.
One way to do so is by visiting the Scam Alert website, where you can sign up to receive the latest scam alerts from NCPC and the Police. All you have to do is fill in your name, email address, and contact number in the form provided, and you’re good to go.
This post was brought to you by the National Crime Prevention Council.
Slots are limited so sign up fast.
Free gym passes FTW!
Picking the best water dispenser in Singapore can be tough with so many features to…
We revisited KSL City Mall in JB to see what's new with our familiar favourites…
2x the owners means 2x the care and love.
Here's how you can score brownie points with bae.