Cheated of twice his monthly salary

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Why victims fall for credits-for-sex scams

What makes victims so vulnerable to credit-for-sex scams?

DUPED: Mike ended up buying $6,300 in iTunes gift cards for a woman he met online but it turned out to be a scam.
DUPED: Mike ended up buying $6,300 in iTunes gift cards for a woman he met online but it turned out to be a scam.

Before last week, he had never heard of iTunes.

But that didn't stop Mike (not his real name) from buying $6,300 worth of iTunes gift cards for a "girl".

Last Saturday, The New Paper reported that this year, over 200 men here have fallen prey to such credit-for-sex scams.

And the number is rising. Last month alone, 141 cases were reported.

The ruse involves scammers, who claim to be young and attractive women on social media, enticing men to buy online credit for them in exchange for sexual favours.

The scam seems simple enough but what makes victims willing to fork out money for someone they don't know or haven't even met?

Scammers target basic human needs and desires like greed and the desire to be liked, explained Mr Jeffery Chin, 34, a senior psychologist at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre.

SOCIAL ESCORT

In Mike's case, the scammer identified herself as Sisi and pretended to be a Taiwanese woman working here as a social escort.

She claimed she needed money to send her brother to university. Mike agreed to help by taking over and paying for one of her appointments with a client.

Mr Chin told TNP: "There was already a commitment on his part to help the scammer so there would be a strong tendency for him to honour his agreement."

Reciprocity is another factor behind Mike's willingness to pay.

His payment for the appointment with Sisi included a membership fee for the social escort service. To persuade him, Sisi offered to pitch in for that fee.

Mr Chin said: "When Sisi said she was trying to help Mike raise the money, there was a greater likelihood for him to reciprocate and do his part.

"Especially if the commitment was in line with what he wanted."

Mike's repeated payments without receiving anything in return could be attributed to the sunk cost effect, Mr Chin added.

"When the victims have already invested so much, both emotionally and financially, they are willing to pay just a bit more."

Another explanation could be the near-win phenomenon, where victims feel they are close to claiming their reward.

"They tend to think: 'I'm almost there. If I just do one more thing, I'll get my reward.'"

Mr Chin said that as with most scams, the scammers prey on common errors in decision-making using a variety of persuasion tactics.

"They may portray themselves as pitiful and this activates a basic social norm to help someone in need."

Terms of endearment or flattery are other tactics they employ to influence victims more easily.

"Scammers tend to stir up strong emotions when interacting with the victims. This causes the victims to lower their guard and make snap judgments."

Mr Chin advised the public to be careful when interacting with strangers and avoid getting into financial transactions with them.

He also said there is no particular demographic that is more susceptible to scams and that everyone should exercise caution.

Mr Chew Jingwei, who heads the Commercial Affairs Department's syndicated fraud branch, said: "Initial investigations revealed that these scammers are based overseas. We are currently working with foreign counterparts and stakeholders to solve the case."

"They tend to think: 'I'm almost there. If I just do one more thing, I'll get my reward.'"

- Mr Jeffery Chin, a senior psychologist, on why victims continue to pay up

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ANTICS: A man protests as he is arrested (above) on suspicion of selling stolen items in Geylang on Thursday.
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Danger just seconds away

Leaving young children alone risky, say experts

Naureh Fitria Auni, who is almost three (left), and her mother, Madam Noreen Sarini,27 (right), at the balcony looking at the railings where she was stuck in-between on Thursday
Two years and eight months old, Naureh Fitria Auni suffered from a minor bruise on her left cheek after the incident

While it is not a crime for parents to leave their child alone for a short period, experts warn against doing this.

"Even if parents don't intend to neglect their child by leaving them alone, you just never know," said Ms Sujeeta Menon, head of centre at Residence @ St. George's, a girls' hostel.

And safety precautions may not work.

"Within seconds, a three-year-old can do all sorts of things as they see the world with curiosity," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to when a child can be left alone.

Said Ms Menon: "Consider factors like whether the child has started to go to school, takes the bus on his own and if he recognises the dangers of talking to strangers."

Dr Balhetchet said: "Giving children verbal instructions may not work at that age as they'll forget within minutes. I would consider leaving them home with fixed instructions only at the age of six and above".

They were commenting on Thursday's incident at Block 371, Jurong East Street 32, where a toddler who had been left alone was rescued after getting her head stuck between the railings in her home.

GRILLES

Mr Ang Wei Neng, MP for Jurong GRC, said that his representatives visited the family yesterday and offered to install grilles in their flat for free.

This is part of an initiative to help needy families get basic equipment like rice cookers from the Jurong Central Citizens' Consultative Committee's Project Helping Hand fund.

"While grilles have been installed in many units in Blocks 373 and 374, Block 371 is still a work in progress," Mr Ang said.

Lawyer Luke Lee said the police typically investigate a case where an injury or death has occurred as one of negligence. In this case, since the toddler was successfully rescued and unharmed, her parents could be let off with a stern warning.

Investigators will consider the gravity of the danger the child was put in, compared with what was needed to be done to repair that danger, he said.

Another lawyer, Mr Rajan Supramaniam, director at Hilborne Law LLC, said prosecutors have to assess if the parent has taken all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the child.

"Giving children verbal instructions may not work at that age as they'll forget within minutes."

- Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society

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