Money laundering scam involving mules hits $31.5 million
Woman jailed 9 months for helping online 'lover' launder $120,000
She had never met "Shawn", but Nani Terisiawati said she was so much in love, she trusted him.
Unknown to the 37-year-old Indonesian, who holds permanent residency here, Shawn, a stranger she met through a dating application on Aug 9, 2012, was merely setting her up.
He courted Nani then used her to launder $120,000 cash in stolen money in November 2012.
Nani is not the only person to end up helping syndicates launder some $31.5 million last year.
Police figures show that last year, there was a spike for this type of white collar crime.
In a reply to The New Paper, a police spokesman said that in 2013, there were 212 cases of dirty money being fraudulently transferred from bank accounts of victims overseas to money mules here.
The police spokesman said: "Most of the monies were transferred out of Singapore on the same day.
"Police managed to recover about 18 per cent of the fraudulently transferred funds so far."
In 2012, there were 93 reported cases involving $24.6 million.
And all too often, it is the money mules like Nani who are arrested.
On June 26, Nani was sentenced to nine months in jail for dishonestly receiving stolen property and transferring benefits of criminal conduct.
LOVING THE WRONG PERSON
In her mitigation plea, her lawyer said that Nani, who was described in court as "naive and silly", had made the mistake of "falling in love with the wrong person".
She had believed that Shawn, supposedly a divorcé living in Sarawak, Malaysia, was genuinely interested in her.
They had met on OkCupid and exchanged phone numbers. He told Nani he was working in Sarawak for "some oil project."
Two months into their relationship, Shawn asked Nani to set up a bank account in Singapore for his US company to transfer money to.
The money wired was supposedly to be used to pay Shawn's workers in Malaysia.
Nani doubted Shawn's intentions and had questioned him about the need to transfer the money into her account.
She thought it would make more sense to transfer the money into a Malaysian bank account.
Shawn told her that it would take too long to transfer the money from the US to Malaysia.
In the end, Nani complied with Shawn's request by setting up a new bank account on Oct 16, 2012.
About a month later, Nani received a sum of US$98,500 (S$119,600).
On the same day, Nani withdrew $110,000 in cash, as instructed by Shawn by SMS. She handed the cash to a woman at a taxi stand at Wisma Atria.
Later, Nani transferred $9,000 to Shawn and left the remaining $600 untouched.
MONEY STOLEN OVERSEAS
Investigations revealed that the money Nani had received was stolen from an oil and gas company based in the US.
The company had its e-mail system hacked and an unknown person fraudulently made three wire transfers totalling US$598,000 ($746,000) into bank accounts in Singapore.
The police said that in 2012 and 2013, 24 money mules were convicted for their roles of receiving or transferring criminal proceeds, the majority of them being Singaporeans.
These money mules have been sentenced to jail terms of between two months and 24 months.
Nani has lost more than her freedom.
Her lawyer told the court that although she did not profit from this incident, she has lost her job and her apartment lease was terminated.
While in custody, her father died.
She now hopes her permanent residence status here is not revoked.
Most of the monies were transferred out of Singapore on the same day.
- A police spokesman
By the numbers
The amount of dirty money transferred to bank accounts here last year in 212 reported cases, an increase from $24.6m and 93 reported cases in 2012.
Cyber victims seldom meet fraudsters
The person you've just met on the social networking site seems sincere.
Her request - to get to know you as a friend - may seem innocent, too.
But the police warn that this could be one of the many ploys overseas syndicates use to select fresh targets to use as money mules.
In an e-mail reply on Monday, the police told The New Paper: "The fraudsters tailor their communication and profiles to appeal to the targets. They may claim to have business dealings in Singapore, have lived or worked in Singapore, or wish to migrate and set up a family in Singapore."
In the world of cybercrime, where money mules are often used to receive and remit stolen money, the cost to society can be immense.
In a 2008 report, data protection company McAfee said data theft from cybercrime may have cost businesses as much as "US$1 trillion globally in lost intellectual property and expenditures for repairing the damage".
Mr James Pang, assistant director of Interpol's digital crime investigative support sub-directorate, gave a similar assessment at a speech at the NEC Innovative Solutions Fair 2014.
He cited a 2013 Norton report, which said that cybercrimes cost consumers US$113 billion (S$140 billion).
Other known methods used by syndicates include recruiting Singapore representatives to set up new bank accounts or using unsuspecting real estate and law firms.
The fraudsters also target multiple victims at the same time.
ELUSIVE AND EVASIVE
Hiding behind vague online identities, the syndicate members normally pose as Caucasian men residing outside Singapore.
Subsequent communication will usually be in the form of e-mails, online chats or even phone calls, said the police. Victims rarely get to meet the fraudsters.
The money mules, on the other hand, are usually Singaporeans earning a monthly income of less than $3,000.
The jobs they hold include security guard, businessman and even part-time lecturer.
About 60 per cent of them are males and more than half are aged between 40 and 60 years old.
The amount transferred by money mules, who get a commission for their role, range from a few thousand dollars to more than half a million dollars per transaction, police said.
One case involved $1.25 million and the mule kept $10,451. Odd-job labourer Ngiam Kok Min was jailed for 54 months in Oct 2012.
The police spokesman added: "As a result, the true masterminds not only evade detection, they could also enjoy their ill-gotten proceeds and possibly use these funds to finance and perpetuate future criminal activities."
BE ON THE LOOKOUT
The police have advised the public not to divulge personal banking details to strangers or agree to receive money from unknown sources.
When a suspiciously large amount of money is wired to your bank account, lodge a police report and inform your bank immediately.
Anyone convicted of dishonestly receiving stolen money can be jailed up to five years, or fined, or both.