SINGAPORE: A woman who "found a fraudster" when looking for love had scammed the man instead, keeping the S$50,000 that was illicitly transferred to her.
She then ignored the man who was trying to scam her, and transferred parts of the cash to help another scammer she was in love with, as well as a third scammer.
For her actions, the prosecution on Tuesday (Jul 16) called for her to be sentenced to three months' jail, despite a mandatory treatment order report recommending that she undergo treatment for 18 months.
The defence urged the court to sentence 63-year-old Christina Cheong Yoke Lin to the recommended mandatory treatment order instead, saying that she did not go looking to commit fraud.
"She went looking for love but she found a fraudster," said her lawyer Aaron Lee. "She was a victim in at least four of such scams."
Referring to a report from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Mr Lee said Cheong was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder at the time of the offences, and that she was suicidal.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Leong Wing Tuck and Eugene Phua asked the court to sentence Cheong to three months' jail instead, saying that her depression was of "mild severity".
Characterising Cheong as a "manipulative offender adept at putting out lies when it suited her situation", the prosecution said Cheong maintained control and was "at the steering wheel" in her interactions with the first scammer, a person named "Collins".
"What we see here is an individual playing along, manipulating the situation as much as the other party," said Mr Leong, in arguments that the defence slammed as "dramatisation".
LIED TO SCAMMER, AGREED TO USE OF BANK ACCOUNT
Cheong had pleaded guilty to one charge of dishonest misappropriation of property, with another charge of possessing benefits from criminal conduct taken into consideration.
The divorced part-time English teacher had turned to online dating apps to look for love, but met a fraudster instead, said her defence lawyer.
In August 2017, Cheong met Collins on the Badoo online dating app. When she told him that she was in debt, Collins said he loved her and wanted to help her.
Cheong lied to Collins saying that her handbag had been snatched by a thief on a bike and asked him to help her with her rent, as she did not want to sleep on the streets.
Collins then proposed a criminal scheme, telling her to allow her bank accounts to be used by undisclosed associates. In return, she could take S$500 from each transaction.
Cheong agreed to try out the arrangement and gave the details of her DBS account to Collins, but refused to disclose details of a second bank account she had.
On Aug 17, 2017, a 54-year-old woman who was being scammed by a "lover" she met on Facebook transferred S$50,000 to Cheong's account, whose details she had been given. The victim thought she was helping her lover clinch a contract.
SHE KEPT THE MONEY, BLOCKED SCAMMER TO HELP OTHER SCAMMERS
When Cheong received the money, Collins told her to withdraw the entire sum from her account and wait for instructions from his boss' associates.
Collins also asked for the details of Cheong's second bank account, in order for his "boss" to transfer S$26,000 to her, of which S$1,000 was hers to keep.
Cheong grew suspicious at this and asked him via WhatsApp if the money was legal, but did not receive a clear answer.
Despite Collins asking her repeatedly about the money in the week that followed, Cheong made excuses and ignored his WhatsApp voice calls.
Collins eventually fell out with her and called her a "thief" via WhatsApp on Aug 27, 2017. To this, Cheong replied: "Did we have a contractual agreement?" and "We will see what the police will say about you using accounts for your payments."
She then ignored Collins' messages and calls before blocking him.
Cheong, who is single, misappropriated the S$50,000 for her own use, transferring S$31,000 to a Malaysian CIMB bank account on the instructions of a female scammer named "Jasmin".
Cheong was hoping to help a "Mark Anthony", who was yet another scammer that she had fallen in love with.
Mark Anthony had claimed that he was being detained by the Malaysian authorities for having too much money.
Cheong spent S$1,000 of the siphoned cash on her own expenses and transferred the remaining S$18,000 to various bank accounts on the instructions of another scammer "Choon Lee", who had promised to give Cheong S$800,000 for her help in a separate inheritance scam.
District Judge Ng Peng Hong adjourned sentencing to August, saying he needed time to consider the submissions by both sides carefully before making a decision.
The maximum punishment for dishonest misappropriation of property is two years, a fine, or both.