Bangkok scam leaves S'pore family in a jam
When he bought a three-room flat at Stirling Road in 2012, he never expected to have a stream of strangers knocking on his door.
All of them were victims of a scam in Bangkok.
And they were looking for a Mr Than Soon Choi, whom they said had conned them in Thailand.
Mr Septian Hartono, an Indonesian and Singapore permanent resident, 29, told The New Paper that the first incident was in November 2012.
Said the researcher at SingHealth: "A couple had come to my flat asking for Mr Than, saying that he had cheated them of his money.
"My wife and I were very confused as we didn't know who Mr Than was."
More people would come looking for Mr Than, and the stories were always the same.
The victims had encountered a Mr Than in Bangkok, where he would ask to borrow money.
Mr Than would claim that he and his wife were robbed and needed money to return to Singapore.
As proof, the con man would show his passport and identity card.
He told them they could reach him at the address on his IC or on his mobile phone.
It could not be verified if the IC and passport were authentic and belonged to Mr Than.
Out of sympathy, the victims would lend Mr Than around $200, only to discover that the mobile phone number he gave to them is not in use.
Such stories have been shared on online forums since 2006.
Last Monday, a woman also shared her experience on Facebook.
Mr Hartono lives in the flat with his wife, mother-in-law and five-month-old child. He has been living in Singapore for 11 years.
He said he has accompanied some of the victims to the police station, but the police were unable to help as the cases occurred in Bangkok.
"I felt bad for them. If you're someone who's willing to lend money to a stranger, you definitely have a good heart," he said.
Mr Hartono bought the flat through the owner's agent.
He said: "We met the woman who was selling the flat only when we signed the agreement at the HDB office."
Mr Hartono told TNP that he would occasionally receive letters addressed to the previous owners of the flat.
The surnames on the letters had matched Mr Than's.
When asked if he has encountered angry victims, Mr Hartono said all of them have been civil.
He said: "We used to have people coming once a month early last year, but none of them were angry or violent...
"I think they felt bad for us as well, as my family is affected. But we have a kid, so I am worried that the next person who comes to look for Mr Than won't be as friendly as the rest."
- Additional reporting by Elizabeth Law
We used to have people coming once a month early last year, but none of them were angry or violent... But we have a kid, so I am worried that the next person that comes to look for Mr Than won't be as friendly as the rest.
- Mr Septian Hartono
'I don't know a Mr Than'
The names on letters that were addressed to Mr Hartono's flat led The New Paper to a flat in Tanglin Halt.
It is believed to be where Mr Than's family is staying.
But one of the owners, who wished to be known only as Madam Leong, told The New Paper that she did not know a Mr Than Soon Choi.
Even when we showed a photo of Mr Than during our visit last Wednesday, Madam Leong insisted that she did not know him.
A young woman then told us that they did not wish to be interviewed.
A TNP check revealed that the Tanglin Halt flat is owned by two people - a woman with the surname Leong, and a woman with the surname Than.
A check with the Registry of Marriages showed that Mr Than Soon Choi is married to a woman with the surname Leong, who was listed as the flat's owner.
When TNP visited the flat again last Friday, the two women declined to be interviewed.
When asked if Mr Than was living there, the same young woman asked: "What is the issue now?"
She declined to comment further when told about the incidents in Bangkok.
The neighbours told TNP that they have never seen an old man living with the family.
'Con artists take advantage of tourists' generosity'
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Singaporeans who are going overseas should be on the alert for such scams.
He said: "This is the festive season and the season of giving. Many scam and con artists will take advantage of the generosity of the tourists.
"Should Singaporeans fall prey to such scams, they should immediately lodge a report (with) the local police."
He added that Singaporeans could approach the nearest Singapore diplomatic mission for consular assistance if needed.
MFA also has a smartphone application (MFA@SG) for Singaporeans to get consular information.
Could the ICs and passports be fake?
Mr Lionel de Souza, a private investigator, said ICs and passports are difficult to forge.
He said: "Check if the passport has a punch hole on the cover. If it does, it means that it's expired."
Another way is to check the state crest on the passport.
He also told TNP that con artists know how to draw sympathy.
"They usually try to strike up conversations with you. So if you don't know the person and they are asking for help, direct them to the consulate instead. Don't engage them."