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Singapore

Man used friend's S$25,000 bitcoin investment to cheat woman in failed money exchange scam

Man used friend's S$25,000 bitcoin investment to cheat woman in failed money exchange scam

File photo of Singapore dollars. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: In order to commit a money exchange scam, a man used his friend's S$25,000 meant for bitcoin investment and roped in other friends to cheat a woman of 400,000 yuan (S$80,700).

However, his friends failed in the scam when they tried to escape by bus and the victim caught up with them in a taxi.

When the police were conducting their investigations, Lincoln Poh Chong Tee turned off his phone and hid it in a shoe rack outside his home, knowing it contained incriminating evidence. 

And in a separate incident, he took a knife to confront a man who was having drinks with his girlfriend and was eventually remanded in May this year.

For his offences, Poh, 26, was sentenced to a year's jail on Thursday (Sep 15).

He pleaded guilty to five charges of conspiring to cheat, obstructing the course of justice, dishonest misappropriation, possessing a weapon unlawfully and abetting unauthorised access to the Singapore Police Force's database. 

The court heard that Poh hatched a plot with his friend Wang Yu Chi sometime around October 2020 to scam others through a fake money exchange service.

They planned to get the victim to transfer money to them and lie to the victim that they did not receive the cash. After this, they intended to promise a refund and abort the deal but keep the victim's foreign currency.

Wang convinced a 33-year-old woman to exchange S$150,000 worth of yuan. Poh's role was to prepare S$150,000 in cash as a prop, but he never intended to hand the cash to the customer. The sum included his own savings, his girlfriend's contributions and sums of money his friends entrusted to him to invest in Bitcoin.

Poh was to get 20 per cent of the gains from the scam, or about S$30,000. He also roped in other friends to help out.

On Oct 21, 2020, two of Poh's friends who agreed to take part in the scam went to meet the victim in Claymore Road. The victim was with her husband and counted the prop money of S$150,000 the scammers brought with them.

After counting it, she transferred 400,000 yuan - roughly half the total agreed amount - to two bank accounts as instructed. Wanting security that the exchange would go through, the victim asked for the cash equivalent for the 400,000 yuan.

VICTIM CAUGHT UP WITH SCAMMERS

The scammers did not want to hand over any cash and asked the victim to transfer the other half of the sum, but she refused. The scammers then tried to flee on a bus, but the victim boarded a Grab taxi and caught up with them. 

Her husband called the police, who arrested Poh's two friends and seized the S$150,000 in cash. Poh and Wang were identified through police investigations and subsequently arrested.

Before his arrest, Poh switched off and concealed his phone inside a shoe rack outside his family home, knowing that the device contained incriminating evidence.

He lied to the police repeatedly that he had lost his phone. He later changed his lie by saying he had given the phone to his girlfriend, and police officers performed a futile search in her room.

It was only in early November 2020 that Poh admitted he had been lying and that he had hidden the phone outside his house.

The S$150,000 he had consisted of various sums including money that Poh's friends entrusted to him to invest in Bitcoin.

POLICE OFFICER'S UNAUTHORISED SCREENING 

One of these friends was Bryan Tay Wei Chuan, 29, a ground response force officer of the Singapore Police Force at Sembawang Neighbourhood Police Centre, with the rank of Sergeant Grade 2.

He got to know Poh during a holiday in Vietnam, and the pair became friends and travelled together.

After they returned to Singapore, they kept in touch and would visit spas together.

In March 2020, Poh texted Tay and asked him to help him with something. He passed Tay the NRIC number belonging to his friend Wang and asked him to check if there was any ongoing case.

Poh told Tay that Wang had been falsely implicated in a pending investigation. Tay told him that he would get in trouble if he was caught performing an unauthorised screening, but Poh kept asking him to do it.

About a week later, Tay was performing his duties at Sembawang neighbourhood police centre when he saw that there was no one else around. He screened Wang's NRIC number and sent the screening of Wang's criminal records to Poh via WhatsApp.

Poh asked Tay to conduct another screening in April 2020, but Tay refused, saying that there were records of such screenings and he would get caught. 

Poh tried again in July 2020, asking Tay to check if Wang was wanted by the authorities in order for him to determine if he could return to Singapore. Tay refused, saying he did not dare to make any more checks.

Sometime in September 2020, Poh told Tay he had a profitable opportunity in Bitcoin and promised him profits.

Convinced after Poh showed him rising bitcoin prices and Google searches on Bitcoin, Tay transferred Poh S$25,000 for investment.

Instead of investing it on Tay's behalf, Poh used the sum as part of the S$150,000 "prop" money for the money exchange scam.

In November 2020, a police officer lodged a report about Tay's unauthorised screening of Wang's NRIC number, saying it had been uncovered by investigations against Poh.

When investigations were ongoing for the above crimes, Poh took a knife to confront a man who was drinking with his girlfriend.

Poh had been drinking in May 2022 when he called his girlfriend, who was at a bar. Poh heard male voices over the phone and became agitated. He began quarrelling with his girlfriend, and a man who was with his girlfriend shouted at Poh over the phone, telling him not to "act big".

Intoxicated from a bottle of Martell liquor, Poh retrieved a knife from his home and headed to Prinsep Street where he confronted his girlfriend and the man who was with her.

Poh chased the man along Prinsep Street with the knife in his hand but was eventually stopped by his girlfriend. Before reaching home, Poh threw the knife into Rochor Canal, fearing he would get into trouble for possessing a knife.

He was remanded that same month. His accomplice Wang is based in Vietnam and remains at large, while the two friends who helped him in the scam were given two months' jail earlier this year for their roles.

The prosecutor asked for a year's jail for Poh, saying that he was significantly involved in the planning and coordination of the scam even though Wang was the mastermind.

Source: CNA/ll
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