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Crossing the line

Scammer uses messaging app Line to dupe man into buying iTunes gift cards

He had been warned by his friend days ago that his instant messaging app on his phone might have been hacked.

Still, when Mr Koh Mui Quee got a series of text messages from the same friend last Saturday, he did not suspect anything.

He ended up being conned into buying $2,250 worth of iTunes gift cards.

It is just one of an increasing number of scams involving the popular cards, which can be used to buy music, movies and books from the iTunes online store. 

Mr Koh, 57, a driver for a community hospital, said he bought a total of 15 iTunes gift cards, thinking they were for his friend, whom he identified only as Mr Tang.

$150 GIFT CARDS

He first got a text from the scammer on Saturday. The scammer posed as Tango Tang, his friend's contact name on Line app, and asked him to buy three iTunes gift cards worth $150 each for him.

Line is an app available on the Google Play store and the Apple iTunes store with free messaging and call services for users with wireless connections or 3G services.

Not suspecting anything, Mr Koh did as was told and went to the Challenger outlet at Bukit Panjang, which is walking distance from his home, to get the cards.

After this was done, the scammer asked Mr Koh to take a photo of the codes on the cards and send it to him, before asking for five more.

"We have known each other for close to 30 years now, so I just did it without a question," Mr Koh told The New Paper yesterday.

After buying eight cards, Mr Koh made a final trip to the store to get the final seven cards at one go.

He did not suspect anything even though Mr Tang had never asked him to buy anything for him before.

"My friend (Mr Tang), has a Mac laptop, which is why I thought he needed those cards," he said.

Even though Mr Koh had maxed out the withdrawal limit on his Nets card for that day and had no cash with him, the scammer was still sending him messages asking him to buy more gift cards.

"You are the only one I can turn to," one of the messages read.

Mr Koh then tried calling Mr Tang through the Line application twice, but both calls were rejected.

"I didn't want to waste money on a normal call, so I decided to use Line because it was free," he explained.

He realised something was not right the next morning when there was no reply to his Line chat even though the scammer had claimed that he would return Mr Koh the money a day after the purchases.

He called Mr Tang using his land line and realised he had been cheated. He made a police report.

"It was trust of my friend that clouded my judgment that day," he said.


We have known each other for close to 30 years now, so I just did it without a question.

- Mr Koh Mui Quee on why he bought the iTunes gift cards for his friend without finding out more first

Protect yourself

According to the police, there have been 15 cases of iTunes scams as of this month.

Scammers usually gain access to a victim's mobile messaging application account, mostly through Line.

The culprit, posing as the victim, would send out messages to the phone numbers stored in the victim's mobile messaging application contact list.

These messages would usually ask the victim's friends to buy iTunes gift cards on his behalf, and to send the redemption codes over the mobile messaging application by taking a picture of it.

After assuring the victim's friends that the money would be returned, the friends would agree.

By the time the ruse is discovered when the friends call up the victim, the gift cards would have been fully redeemed by the culprits.

The victim would also discover that he was unable to access his mobile messaging application account using his existing password.

So what should one do when one encounters something suspicious?

1 Never accede to any request to make purchases or assist in any transaction before checking its authenticity, especially if it sounds suspicious or unusual.

2 Alert the account holder by contacting him directly when you receive messages of such nature. This will help you to check if he had indeed sent the messages.

3 Alternatively, questions with answers only known to both parties, such as the name of the school attended together or details of mutual friends or family members, can be posed for verification.

4 Be extra careful in dealings over mobile messaging platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype or Line.

Previous scams

1 FAKE TELEVISION SHOW SCAM

A man conned a bean-curd stall owner of $5,000 in June 2012. He was sentenced to two weeks' jail this month.

He had claimed he could help promote her stall on a television show on Channel 8.

His scam was exposed when he stopped contacting her after the payments were made, and gave various excuses for when she called him a month later.

2 'EVIL SPIRITS' SCAM

Two Chinese nationals who conned a pair of elderly women out of their life savings with tales of evil spirits and hospitalised children, were jailed a total of more than eight years in June.

Li Lianying, 50, and Li Peng, 45, had been part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable, a court heard.

They cheated two elderly part-time cleaners of around $440,000.

3 PAYPAL SCAM

There were 27 cases of an online scam recently, in which victims were duped of around $33,000 after receiving fake e-mail notifications.

The scammers posed as online payment giant PayPal and sent the e-mails to sellers on various e-commerce sites, pretending that payments had been made for fake transactions.

The sellers then shipped goods such as dresses, mobile phone accessories and bags to the overseas address given.