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'I really trusted them': Victim of China official impersonation scam shares his story

'I really trusted them': Victim of China official impersonation scam shares his story

FILE PHOTO: Police are investigating 157 suspects involved in more than 495 cases of scams. (Photo: Shutterstock)

SINGAPORE: When he received a call from someone claiming to be a Chinese government official about a plot to have him or his family members kidnapped, 21-year-old Sam* found himself agreeing to help with investigations. 

The officials on the phone claimed that they needed photos and videos of Sam with makeup of bruises on his face to smoke out the people behind the ploy.

Believing that he needed to comply and assist with official investigations, Sam met them at a specified location and complied with their instructions. 

What began as a bid to keep his family safe ended in a scam.

The scammer posing as the Chinese official sent the photos and videos to Sam’s parents in China and asked for 1 million yuan (S$208,000) in ransom money for his release. 

“I feel ashamed and guilty ... If I had been more careful, then things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

"Because of this, a lot of people got involved and a lot of people were worried about me. I want to say sorry to them,” Sam told journalists over Zoom on May 5 (Thursday). 

Adding that he wanted to share his story so that other people can avoid making the same mistake, he said: “They spent a lot of time building up my trust. And I really trusted them.” 

Sam, who is a university student here, received a call from the scammer on Apr 25, instructing him to go to a location to take photos and videos of himself with bruises and tied up with a rope. After taking the photos and videos of him, they told him to meet a government official at Changi Airport. 

(*Not his real name)

On Mar 4, the police warned against the re-emergence of the China official impersonation scam.

In April, the police said there were at least 109 victims who lost a total of at least S$14.6 million since January to scammers impersonating Chinese officials. 

According to senior investigation officer Kor Ching Kiat with the Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) anti-scam command and commercial affairs department, the scammer first got in touch with Sam in late March, and made constant contact. 

“I think they swore him to secrecy and tried to isolate him from his family and friends," he said. 

"I think that will help to perpetuate the crime if they feel so helpless they have no other means but to really listen to these persons who are now impersonating government officials that they are the only person that can help them."

While victims have previously gone missing under the instructions of scammers in other cases, the introduction of makeup for bruises to suggest duress or violence to make the family members feel more pressured to send the ransom money was new, said ASP Kor. 


The scammer made a very convincing Chinese government official, Sam said, adding that they used methods that made them look like the real thing. He declined to elaborate more as investigations were still ongoing. 

“They posed as government officials, and said they caught some people. In their documents, they said they saw plans to kidnap me or my family,” he said, stressing that the scheme was very elaborate. 

“Because I wanted to keep my family safe, I listened to the plans of these ‘officials’. They asked me to help to find the people behind these ‘plans’. Of course, now we know that this is false, but it was a very long process in gaining my trust.” 

He was found by the police at Jewel Changi Airport on Apr 27, after his next-of-kin in Singapore reported his disappearance. 

When the police arrived, he thought it was regarding the alleged case that the “officials” were investigating. But he soon understood that he had been tricked. 

While he thought about contacting his parents to let them know he was safe before following the scammer’s instructions, they convinced him not to talk to his parents as the matter was urgent. 

“I did think about contacting my parents first, and then going to the police together. But I wasn’t able to talk to them that day,” Sam said. 

“In hindsight, I also find it a bit funny that I chose to believe the scammers because I wanted to keep my family safe. But because I believed them, my family members were so worried.” 

He is also not sure how the scammer got hold of his parents’ phone numbers in China.

According to screengrabs of messages between them provided by the police, Sam’s parents had asked the scammer for a video call with their son to guarantee his safety.

However, the scammer declined and urged them to send the money instead. His parents then asked for more time to gather the money, but no transfer of funds was ever made. 

“I think need to reflect on this. Why did I listen to them? Why was I tricked by them? I think it was very foolish," Sam said on Thursday. 

"I want to let more people know who might get tricked, to not be like me. Luckily, we did not suffer any losses. I’m very sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused."

While his parents did not scold him too much and were just relieved to see him safe, Sam said his biggest regret was getting them involved in the case. 

“Because of something totally false, my parents were hurt and felt very sad and worried for me. This is not something I want to see. When I talked to them after it was all over, I said 'sorry' many times,” he said. 

“Even though I was the one who got tricked, I feel the worst about getting my parents involved ... After making a mistake, you need to know how to reflect, to make sure that it doesn’t happen a second time.” 


A 25-year-old man has been arrested and a 15-year-old boy is under investigation for their alleged involvement in this China official impersonation scam, the police said on Apr 29. 

The man and the boy are also believed to be victims of a China officials impersonation scam, the police added.

These two individuals received similar calls like what Sam had - from scammers impersonating as government officials, said ASP Kor. 

“They have also been isolated in a way that they can only believe that only these impersonators can only help them, and therefore assisted them in some way with their actions to perpetuate this crime," he said. 

The man had purportedly given Sam a mobile phone with a SIM card for him to communicate with the scammer, acting on the scammer’s instructions. 

The teenager allegedly bought and handed over several items - such as a mobile phone with a SIM card, dried food, cosmetics, rope and bandage tape - to the victim under the scammer’s instructions.

The Chinese police, Interpol or any other law enforcement agency do not have jurisdiction in Singapore to arrest people, or request them to assist in any form of investigations, without the approval of the Singapore Government, said ASP Kor. 

Requests to assist with an investigation and then being asked to keep it a secret are telltale signs of a scam, he added. Other signs include scams that ask for bank details, passwords or those that ask individuals to make payments. 

“They should take care when they receive calls from unsolicited numbers, or those that they do not understand or those they do not know the origins of, such as those with the prefix +65 or from any other countries,” said ASP Kor. 

“Most important is what I said about isolation. When in doubt, they should seek help."

When someone is isolated, they may have behavioural changes, and family members should look out for these changes as well and find out the reason behind it, he added. 

Source: CNA/hw(rw)


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