Channel NewsAsia

18 arrested for alleged online scams

The first half of this year saw 302 such cases, compared with 13 in the same period in 2013.

SINGAPORE: In a two-day operation that ended on Wednesday morning (Aug 20), police arrested 18 people aged between 16 and 47 in relation to online scams.

These Multiple Payment Online Purchase scams typically involve the sale of items below market price and consumers are directed to transfer money to local bank accounts. After this, the scammers would ask for additional fund transfers for custom fees, insurance and balanced payment until the victim realises that he has been cheated.

Police believe the scammers are located outside of Singapore and said the local bank accounts come from “money mules” the scammers recruited overseas. The scammers would recruit potential mules through social network sites and adopt various guises to appeal to them. These include offering a business opportunity or to seek a romantic relationship. Those arrested are being investigated for cheating and allowing their bank accounts to be used to facilitate the scam.

The first half of this year saw 302 such Multiple Payment Online Purchase cases, compared with 13 in the same period last year. Thirteen money mules were arrested in the first half of this year, compared with just one in the same period last year. Police said cheating cases in the first half of this year involved S$237,000, with the amounts involved ranging from S$20 to $5,300, and the victims' ages ranging from 14 to 62. None of the victims have recovered their money.

'Jason', one of the victims, went online to buy a second-hand bicycle. The dealer had sent him his particulars, including a picture of his identity card and bank account, to convince him it was an authentic deal.

'Jason' transferred S$400, but he neither received the bicycle nor his money back. He said: "The only time I found it actually strange was when he started giving many excuses - that the delivery man was in Malaysia, or the delivery man is in some part of Singapore that is very near but is taking a long time. A few days after I bought the bike, he suddenly started saying the delivery man went missing with the bikes along with a few other people's bikes, not just mine." 

Mr Lian Ghim Hua, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police, said: "The scammers may recruit money mules in a variety of ways. One of the most common method is to offer them a job as a remittance agent. They will have to receive fund transfers into their bank accounts and then do a remittance of a portion of their money to the scammer. And in return, they keep a small percentage as a commission."

He added that the increase in online purchase scams is linked to the increase in e-commerce activities, with criminals exploiting this space to pursue their illicit activities.

Those guilty of cheating face up to 10 years in prison and a fine. People found guilty of carrying a remittance business without a licence also face a S$100,000 fine or a two-year jail term, or both.