Credit-for-sex scams up 10-fold
Credit-for-sex scam cases soared in the first half of this year. But just what compels victims to offer up ATM cards and personal information?
The figures above are shocking.
Between January and June this year, the number of credit-for-sex scams has increased nearly 10 times since 2014.
And the year isn't even over yet.
But why do the victims, who range from teenagers to middle-aged men, fall for it so easily?
And how do they end up voluntarily giving their ATM cards and personal identification numbers (PIN) to the scammers?
To find out more, we spoke to two victims.
His marriage is on the rocks and he has not been sleeping in the same room as his wife for almost eight years.
Because of this, the service engineer, who wanted to be known only as Peter, 42, went to the Internet to look for sexual partners.
Little did he know that a promise for a hook-up with a masseuse would end up with him getting cheated of his hard-earned cash by a group of scam artists.
He was not the only one. More men like him have also been scammed while looking for sex.
Peter, who has a 14-year-old daughter, was one of seven men whom scammers cheated of cash totalling $138,000 in a credit-for-sex ruse.
On June 16, officers arrested a Singapore-based man who worked with the scammers, who are believed to be mainly Chinese nationals.
Malaysian student Liew Yii Tern, 22, was jailed for a year last month.
Peter, who earns about $2,000 a month, said he was trawling classifieds website Huaren.sg on May 15 when an advertisement caught his eye. It said that a woman, who claimed to be from China, was offering massage services for $150.
Peter said the ad showed a photo of a slim, pretty woman in her 20s with her WeChat contact.
He said: "She said that her name was Xuan Xuan. I went to her WeChat page and saw more of her photographs. Some of them were of her in sexy poses.
"I was quite excited by what I saw. So I decided to drop her a line and gave her my mobile phone number."
He received a reply almost immediately and they agreed to meet later that day at Vista Point shopping mall in Woodlands.
When she failed to show up, he sent her a message and a woman, who spoke with a thick Chinese accent, called him soon after with a private number, asking him to buy MyCard credits.
These credits can be used to buy online game credits and game items.
The woman, who claimed to be Xuan Xuan, said she wanted to be paid this way to protect herself.
Peter went to a nearby AXS machine to buy $152 worth of credits.
He then received another call, this time from a man calling himself Jacky who claimed to be Xuan Xuan's "big brother".
Jacky, who also spoke with a thick Chinese accent, asked him for more money to supposedly guarantee her safety during the massage.
Peter made two more transactions totalling $304.
He finally gave up after waiting in vain for about two hours and he sent her a message, asking for a refund.
Jacky called instead, telling him to drop off his ATM card at a nearby convenience store.
He also instructed Peter to empty his account first and provide him his particulars such as his PIN and home address.
Jacky claimed that he would return Peter the card by post with the refund inside in two days' time.
Peter emptied his account, placed his card and personal information inside an envelope and dropped it off at the store the next day.
After three days, he still had not received his card so he checked his bank pass book.
Peter said: "I now feel so stupid as I didn't suspect anything at first.
"I was shocked when I saw a lot of money going in and out of my account. I knew then that they were using my account to do illegal transactions. I cancelled my old card and obtained a new one."
According to court documents, between May 17 and 22, Peter's account was used to receive $12,250 over 13 transfers. Investigators were able to trace $3,400 of this sum to two local victims of the same scam.
Peter said he later tried to a withdraw some money, but failed.
After calling his bank, he learnt his account had been frozen.
He said the bank gave him a phone number andwhen he called it, he was surprised to hear a police officer on the other line.
This policeman told him to lodge a report, which he did at Woodlands East Neighbourhood Police Centre on June 3.
With a shudder, Peter said: "I have learnt my lesson. After this incident, I will not be going online any more to meet new female companions.
"Don't be blinded by lust."
Student cheated of $370
Wanting to have sex for the first time, he went online looking for partners.
But instead of losing his virginity, he lost his money.
The 18-year-old student, who wanted to be known only as John, told The New Paper that he visited classifieds site Locanto in May.
There, he saw an ad from a woman offering sexual services.He said: "Even though there was no picture, the ad showed her WeChat contact."
When he checked the WeChat account, he saw a picture of a pretty Chinese woman in her 20s.
"She said her name was Rong Rong. I dropped her a message and received an immediate reply," said John.
They agreed to meet at Bukit Batok Central at 8pm.
As in Peter's case, a similar method was used to bilk the teenager. He was asked to buy credits worth $150 when the woman did not show up.
After being conned into a further $220, he too ended up leaving his ATM card - at a void deck in this case - in order to get a refund.
A man calling himself Ah Chew later called him to ask for his PIN and the teenager gave it to him to facilitate the refund.
John said: "It never occurred to me that it was risky to give others my card and PIN. I didn't think about it and just wanted my money back."
About a month later, he was having dinner outside with his parents when his father, who is self-employed, received a call from the teenager's uncle, who lives with them.
POLICE TURN UP
It turned out that police officers from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) had turned up at their flat earlier that day, looking for John.
When they got home, John told his father "the whole story".
He said: "He seemed very disappointed. My mother doesn't know about my case until now. We don't intend to tell her about it as she has depression."
John and his father later went to the CAD to lodge a report.
According to court documents, from May 28 to June 12, the teenager's account was used to receive $38,960 in total over 44 transfers.
Investigators were able to trace $8,500 of this sum to three local victims of the same scam.
From victim to accomplice
He was duped into buying $102 worth of Alipay credits for sexual services that he never received.
Liew Yii Tern, 22, a Malaysian, then ended up working for the very people who cheated him.
Liew, who was in Singapore on a student pass, was jailed for a year last month after pleading guilty to three counts of helping a man known as Lao Ban to retain benefits of the latter's criminal conduct.
He committed these offences in May and June. They involved a total of $108,057.85.
Five other charges for similar offences were taken into consideration.
Liew had been duped in a similar manner to the other victims and had also had his bank account used for illegal transfers.
Lao Ban then asked if Liew was interested in helping him make regular transactions in return for a small commission.
Even though Liew had been cheated by the group, he agreed.
From May 15 to May 28, he allowed his bank account to receive $86,790 over 54 transfers.
Liew also went to a convenience store and collected an ATM card belonging to Peter. Between May 17 and May 22, $12,250 was transferred into Peter's bank account and Liew used $6,942.40 of it to buy Alipay credits.
Liew later collected an ATM card belonging to John at the void deck of Block 642, Bukit Batok Central.
Between May 28 and June 12, $38,960 was transferred into John's bank account and Liew used $21,315.10 of it to buy Alipay credits.
For each count of helping Lao Ban retain the benefits of his criminal conduct, Liew could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined up to $500,000.
BY THE numbers
The number of credit-for-sex cases between January and June, as compared with 66 in 2014. The scam emerged in the second half of last year.
The total amount of money involved in credit-for-sex cases between January and June, as compared with $118,000 in 2014.
Conmen operate out of S'pore's jurisdiction
PUBLIC ALERT: A signboard put up by the police to warn about credit-for-sex scams. PHOTO: TAN TAM MEI
Netizens should be wary of strangers whom they befriend online.
Inspector of Police 2 Ramesh Vincent K., 42, told The New Paper that to protect themselves against credit-for-sex scam artists, netizens should also avoid giving out their personal details when engaging with other Internet users.
The syndicated fraud senior investigation officer from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) added: "Don't share payment receipts containing details such as your personal identification number (PIN) with anyone."
Commenting on this credit-for-sex scam case, he said that seven victims were involved and they were all men. The youngest was 18 while the oldest was in his mid-40s.
The scammers are believed to be mainly Chinese nationals.
So far, only one person who worked with them has been dealt with in Singapore.
Insp Ramesh said it was a challenge to catch the other scammers as they operate out of Singapore's jurisdiction.
Deputy Superintendent Ho Ban Hsiung, 43, from the CAD, said the police have rolled out several initiatives to educate the public on credit-for-sex scams.
These include road shows, pamphlets and posters.
The police have also put up signboards at places such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Clementi - neighbourhoods where such cases have taken place.
These signboards were placed near AXS and ATM machines to warn potential victims about the scam.