'He seemed like a friendly person': How a woman fell for a parcel scam foiled by OCBC staff
SINGAPORE: When she first saw the Facebook friend request from someone named Owen Park in London, Ms Ng thought nothing of it. She assumed it was her husband's friend from a car club.
"I added him because we usually have new friends that add us on Facebook after events ... to tag us in photos. I added him and we started chatting," the 43-year-old business owner told Channel NewsAsia.
"He seemed like a friendly person," she added.
A few weeks after they started chatting, Ms Ng found herself caught up in a parcel scam. She would have been cheated of S$2,500, if not for two employees from OCBC's Serangoon Gardens branch who advised her against making the bank transfer.
On Wednesday (Mar 14), customer service manager Seah Hoon Hoon June and bank teller Yao Liangbing were commended by the police for their part in foiling the scam.
"YOU BETTER DO IT NOW OR YOUR PARCEL WON'T BE DELIVERED"
Giving an account of what happened, Ms Ng said Park told her that he had recently clinched a £2.2 million (S$4.02 million) deal in Liverpool, and that he had bought gifts for her children in celebration.
These gifts included a PlayStation 4, a MacBook, a bag and US$20,000 (S$26,208) in cash that Park told her would arrive on Monday (Mar 12).
"I didn't want it. I told him a greeting card would be more than enough," said Ms Ng. However, Park insisted that he had already bought the gifts, so Ms Ng gave him her address.
She said her first suspicions were raised when a woman, claiming to be a courier agent, called her on the day of the delivery, stating that her parcel was at customs "waiting for clearance".
"She said the sender had only paid for the insurance and not the customs clearance and that I had to pay S$2,500 for the clearance, and that I had to do it as soon as possible," Ms Ng told Channel NewsAsia.
Despite her suspicions, she decided to head to the OCBC branch in Serangoon Gardens to make the transaction. That was when the woman called again.
Ms Ng said she questioned the woman about the name of the company and details of the invoice, stating that the bank needed the information.
According to Ms Ng, the woman on the phone turned aggressive and said: "Tell the bank that they don't know anything. You better do it now or your parcel won't be delivered."
Her suspicions were further raised when she received another phone call from a personal mobile number from a man alleging to be a customs officer.
"I asked him why he was using his mobile phone and he started scolding me," said Ms Ng.
She added that the man replied: "I can use mobile or landline. What is your problem?"
Ms Ng said she eventually related these discrepancies to the bank teller.
RECOGNISING THE MODUS OPERANDI OF SCAMMERS
Teller Ms Yao said that she realised that Ms Ng was potentially a victim of a scam, as what she described was a common modus operandi used by scammers.
"She looked nervous. When she got to the counter, she looked confused about what she was being asked to do over the phone by the scammers," said Ms Yao, who raised the matter to customer service manager Ms Seah.
Ms Ng was then advised to lodge a police report.
"She was not very sure of the transaction or the person she was crediting the funds to. When customers are not aware of the source, we need to poke further to know why the transaction is being made," said Ms Seah. "I sat down with her and I told her it may be a scam."
Reflecting on the incident, Ms Ng said that while the red flags were there, they were not apparent enough.
"(The signs) were just not clear enough. There were question marks I didn't want to dig into. I have too many things to do," she told Channel NewsAsia.
OCBC staff said this is a rather common reaction.
"Most of the time, customers are aware that it is unusual, but they do not stop to think through the process to see if it is suspicious or not because they are usually being pressured to visit the bank. It doesn’t give them enough time to think it through and by the time they realise it, it may be too late," said Ms Seah.
Her suggestion on what to do if a potential victim is unsure of what to do?
"If they are being asked to do anything out of the extraordinary like a fund transfer, talk to someone. A friend may have a clear picture and may advise something else."
For their efforts, Ms Yao and Ms Seah were commended in a ceremony held at the Police Cantonment Complex on Wednesday.
Director of the Commercial Affairs Department, David Chew, praised them for their "alertness and public-spiritness when performing their duties".
"As the first point of contact with the victim, Ms Yao and Ms Seah had successfully saved her (Ms Ng) from not just losing the initial S$2,500, but future financial loss and distress if the scam had continued,” Mr Chew added.