Singapore victims fleeced by China scammers

Victims here fleeced by scammers in China

There's no denying that sex sells.

Consider the scams over the years: the strip-blackmail operation, the wire-money-to-a-suitor scandal and now credit-for-sex scam.

The premise is often the same. Put a picture of an attractive woman online and wait for men to take the bait.

Simple but effective.

There were 1,203 cases of credit-for-sex scams last year involving a whopping $2.9 million. There were 66 of such cases in 2014, involving $118,200.

The victims, enticed by online pictures of scantily-clad women, would send text messages from their Singapore mobile phones for paid sex.

They would then receive suggestive replies and promises of a meeting.

But the men were actually communicating with scammers, mainly other men operating in China.

Many victims were fleeced of their cash and there wouldn't even be a meet-up.

Men here were such good pickings that Singapore police officers had to work with their counterparts in China to crack down on the scammers there.

Following a joint investigation into a major credit-for-sex syndicate, Chinese police raided the scammers' call centres last Dec 23.

The syndicate was operating from Jiangxi and Fujian in the south-east and Hunan in the south.

Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Ho Ban Hsiung from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) told The New Paper on Sunday that the syndicate was a major player in the credit-for-sex cases. He added that since the raid, the number of such cases has "dropped drastically".

So, how do the scams work?

A victim, who wanted to be known as Peter, 42, was cheated of $456 last May 15 after responding to an online ad for sexual services.

The service engineer received a reply almost immediately, saying a sex worker would meet him later that day at Vista Point mall in Woodlands.

When she failed to show up, he sent her another message and a woman called him from a private number, asking him to buy MyCard credits.

These credits can be used to buy online game credits and game items. The woman said she wanted to be paid this way to "protect herself".

Peter went to a nearby AXS machine to buy the credits but still the woman failed to turn up.

TEAMWORK: (From left) Insp Alan Kit and DPS Ho Ban Hsiung flew to China to help their Chinese counterparts with their investigations. TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

He finally gave up after waiting for about two hours.

DSP Ho told TNPS that 38 men and five women - all Chinese nationals in their 20s and 30s - were arrested in the full-day operation.The two ringleaders, men in their 20s, were among those caught.

They were arrested in seven different locations, mainly apartments that doubled up as call centres and their cases are still pending.

DSP Ho said: "Some of these men pretended to be women when they sent text messages. The women were sometimes deployed to speak to their victims over the phone."

He also said the syndicate's headquarters was in Jiangxi while financial transactions were performed in the other two provinces.

Three days after the raid, DSP Ho flew to China with Inspector (Insp) Alan Kit, who is also from the CAD, to assist their Chinese counterparts with their investigations.

Insp Kit said that the Chinese police officers needed information from the victims in Singapore.

Singapore officers then collated the information and handed it over.

He also said that one of the main obstacles in cracking the case was the sheer number of credit-for-sex scam cases reported last year ­- 1,203.

DIFFERENT LAWS

He added: "Singapore and China have different laws, legal procedures and protocols. Despite these, we still managed to work together to stop the crime."

DSP Ho told TNPS that the scammers targeted Singapore because of the large Chinese population who can communicate in Mandarin through text messages.

He added: "In Singapore, information such as the location of ATM and AXS machines can also be easily found online. After finding out where their victims were, the scammers would search the Internet to find the location of the machines that were closest to them.

"The scammers then instructed their victims to make their transactions without being physically present in Singapore."

As a crime prevention measure against credit-for-sex scams, netizens are advised to be wary of strangers who befriend them online.

The police also said: "Think twice before making payment using online credits. Do not send money to, or buy anything for anyone you have never met before."

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