Serial conman preys on old, helpless
You would expect senior citizens like Madam Aminah to be treated with love and respect.
At 82, the widow can proudly say she raised nine children and experienced a war and turmoil prior to Singapore's independence.
In her golden years, Madam Aminah (not her real name) is content to spend time with the people she loves.
Unfortunately, one serial cheat has manipulated simple, kind-hearted senior citizens like Madam Aminah.
In April last year, Jumahri Suriman came knocking at Madam Aminah's door with an offer of help.
The brief encounter with Jumahri at her three-room flat in Ghim Moh would prove costly for Madam Aminah, as she was conned of $200 and had her $300 mobile phone stolen.
She told The New Paper in Malay: "We don't work or earn much, and yet he had the audacity to cheat harmless people like me.
"He is still young and able-bodied. I'm sure he would get more money by working than cheating people."
We're not identifying Madam Aminah as she lives alone in a flat she has owned since 1976.
Some of her children give her enough money each month for her expenses.
Investigations revealed that Jumahri, then, 56, had been cheating Malay senior citizens from April to August last year.
In all, the former cleaner, who was sentenced to 11 months' jail, pocketed $2,298 from seven victims.
While the amount may be considered small, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said in her judgment on Sept 15 that "simple-minded elderly need to be protected".
Figures show an increase in the number of seniors falling victim to cheats in the last three years, the police said.
That morning in April, Jumahri told Madam Aminah he was from the community centre and that he was looking for a Malay woman with a name that sounded like "Amnah".
Madam Aminah said: "I told him 'you got the wrong flat because my name is Aminah'. It was then he said he got the right address because it was 'Aminah' he was looking for."
She admitted making the mistake of letting Jumahri into her home.
"His shoes were polished and he wore a long-sleeved shirt," Madam Aminah added.
"He was polite and looked trustworthy."
Jumahri told Madam Aminah that he could get her financial aid worth $800. To qualify for the scheme, he told her he needed to examine her identity card (IC). But she noticed he held her identity card in a strange way - by touching only the tips of the card.
She said: "Now that I know he was a cheat, I suppose he did not want to leave his fingerprints on my IC."
To get the $800, Jumahri told Madam Aminah she had to make an "advance payment" of $200 to him.
When she went to her room to retrieve the $200, he pretended to make a call on his mobile phone to check on her eligibility for payment.
While she was in her room, Madam Aminah believes Jumahri took the opportunity to steal her mobile phone, which she had left near the sofa.
She said: "I believed him because he said he would return in the evening to give me a receipt. Before he left, he had even advised me to keep the gate locked.
"When I realised I was duped, I was angry and cursed him, hoping that he would get caught."
Her anger later gave way to fear and paranoia, said one of Madam Aminah's daughters, who gave her name only as Madam Azizah, 52.
Her family now makes it a point not to leave Madam Aminah alone in the evenings. Her daughters take turns to visit her or arrange for Madam Aminah to sleep over at their homes.
Madam Azizah, a secretary, said: "She was afraid that he would return.
"For a while she stopped going to the prayer hall at a nearby block. Since the incident, she keeps the door closed at all times."
The family is glad that Madam Aminah was not hurt. Jumahri could have used violence knowing that she was all alone, said Madam Azizah.
She added: "My mother is not rich but she lives comfortably with the allowance she gets from my siblings.
"I can't imagine what it's like for the other senior citizens who may not be financially stable. Losing $200 could mean losing the world to them."
More seniors fall prey
The number of elderly victims in cheating-related offences has increased over the last three years.
There were 56 reported cases in 2011 and 62 in 2012, the police said. Last year, 72 people aged 65 and above fell prey to con men like Jumahri Suriman.
The trend almost doubled in the first six month of this year - the number stood at 41 for January to June, compared to 26 over the same period last year.
Perhaps serial cheats like Jumahri succeeded because they had "scouted for low-income, poorly-educated elderly victims - most likely to fall prey to his deception", said District Judge Jasvender Kaur.
Jumahri had devised different scams for his other six victims.
To a 66-year-old cleaner in Ang Mo Kio, Jumahri said he could increase her fortnightly pay of $350 by another $50.
In May last year, he had lied to her that he was an employee of the Ang Mo Kio town council and he could get her the month's salary of $800 if she handed him the $350 she had received. And she did.
Last November, Madam Goh Kah Keow, 72, lost $401,450 in cash and jewellery to a foreign syndicate.
The syndicate had targeted the elderly using an elaborate ploy, telling victims that they were haunted by evil spirits. To get rid of the bad luck, they would have to take their valuables to a medium for a "cleansing" ritual.
The police want to reach out to vulnerable seniors through a programme called The Silver Watch, launched by Bukit Merah East NPC in 2012.
The aim is to educate senior citizens to guard against crimes such as scams and the other two common offences which the elderly fall victim to - robbery and snatch theft.
A police spokesman told The New Paper in an e-mail: "Ang Mo Kio police division implemented the programme within their jurisdiction last year.
"Moving forward, this programme will be replicated in estates with a high density of senior citizens."
5 WAYS TO AVOID GETTING SCAMMED
1 Always be wary if approached by strangers, directly or through telephone or e-mail.
2 Always check the credibility of information or messages given to you. You can check with friends or family members.
3 Do not give your particulars or bank account details to people you don't know.
4 Do not transfer money via remittance agencies, banks or any other means to anyone you don't know.
5 Call the Police immediately at '999' to report the scam.
Source: Singapore Police Force website