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Singapore

Youth admits cheating 7 friends of S$332,000 in investment scam

The youth believed he would be more well-liked by his peers if he showed success at cryptocurrency trading, says his defence lawyer.

Youth admits cheating 7 friends of S$332,000 in investment scam

File photo of the State Courts in Singapore. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: A youth told seven friends that he had made profits from trading cryptocurrency, convincing them to invest about S$332,000 through him.

Instead of investing, he used the money to buy items in online games, which he sold for profit. He then paid back about S$82,000 to his friends.

The youth, now 20, on Tuesday (Aug 16) pleaded guilty to three charges of cheating.

Another four similar charges will be considered when he returns for sentencing next week.

The youth cannot be named as he was under 18 when he committed the offences and is protected under the Children and Young Persons Act.

Sometime before 2017, the youth discovered that he was able to profit from buying and selling in-game items from games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Around November 2017, when the youth was 16, he decided to increase his profits by selling higher value items, but did not have enough money to buy these.

He wanted to approach his friends for money, but knew they would not help him if they were made aware that the money was for buying in-game items, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Cheng You Duen.

The youth therefore lied to his friends that he invested in various commodities such as forex and cryptocurrency, and offered to invest on their behalf.

He lied that he had previously profited from Bitcoin trading and guaranteed his friends fixed returns if they invested through him.

One of the youth's victims was a 17-year-old classmate who was deceived into delivering more than S$188,000 between January and August 2018.

Between April and August 2018, this classmate received more than S$40,000 from the youth, as purported returns on his investments.

The victim eventually made a police report in October 2018 that he had invested a large sum with the youth but had not received the returns.

Another 17-year-old schoolmate was cheated into delivering about S$106,000 over at least 26 occasions from May to August 2018.

He also received about S$40,000 as purported investment returns, and made a police report in October 2018.

There were other victims, such as another 17-year-old friend who invested S$5,000 with the youth, who did not receive any returns.

Mr Cheng called the youth a recalcitrant offender and highlighted that there has been a rising number of investment scams in Singapore.

He argued that the money given back to the victims, although mitigating their economic losses, could not be considered a demonstration of the offender's remorse.

"In any event, a substantial sum of S$249,124 remains outstanding," said the prosecutor.

He added that some of the victims also sourced money from relatives and friends for their investment sums.

Defence counsel Adeline Goh said her client's offences were "borne out of a teenager's misguided attempt to gain a sense of belonging among his friends".

She said that her client believed he would be more well-liked by his peers if he showed that he was knowledgeable and successful at cryptocurrency trading.

The lawyer said that when the victims, who initially placed small amounts of money with the offender, started to increase their investments, he was "at a loss".

"This is a misguided attempt by a teenager to gain friendship," she said, urging the court not to consider reformative training.

Ms Goh also highlighted her client's young age and genuine remorse for his actions, adding that he had stopped playing computer games.

"He has experienced firsthand how a lie he thought was harmless could derail his life," she said, calling the court proceedings a "wake-up call" for him.

But District Judge Kessler Soh said that the defence's mitigation plea appeared to downplay the harm caused to the victims.

He ordered reports to assess the youth's suitability for probation and reformative training, as requested by the prosecution.

Probation is a community-based sentence, while reformative training is a harsher punishment that detains younger offenders in a structured environment with an emphasis on rehabilitation.

The punishment for cheating is up to 10 years' jail and a fine.

Source: CNA/dv(zl)

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