Elaborate scam dupes divorced mother of $1.1 million
Multiple trips to Malaysia, a fake United Nations officer, a fake bank website and a briefcase purportedly containing US$2 million (S$2.7 million) in cash - this was the elaborate set-up of a scam that swindled a woman here of $1.1 million.
The 45-year-old victim, Grace (not her real name), was duped into believing she was helping to free a "close friend" who had been detained in Malaysia on suspicion of money laundering.
Her case is among 349 love scams reported to the police in the first half of this year.
The Singapore permanent resident, who had been doing business here for over a decade, met a Canadian man named Lee, 52, through a friend here last September. They went out several times and kept in touch via Facebook.
Early this year, she received a phone call about Lee being detained at Malaysian customs for trying to bring a briefcase containing $2.7 million into Singapore.
"Lee told me he was going to use the money to buy a house here and was being held by the police. He asked for help and said someone from the United Nations (UN) would contact me," the divorced mother told reporters in a phone interview yesterday.
A man claiming to be from the UN called her four days later and said he needed US$250,000 to get Lee released. Grace met the man in Kuala Lumpur and was shown the allegedly impounded briefcase containing the money.
She was told Lee needed two certificates issued by the UN to prove he was not laundering money. "Lee gave me a website link to a bank and asked me to help him transfer the funds," she said.
When Grace could not withdraw the money from his account, she decided to use her own money.
Over the next four months, she made about 10 trips to Malaysia to hand large amounts of cash to the "UN officer".
When Grace said she had no more money, she was told Lee had been "deported". She then realised the online banking site she had been given was a duplicate of a real bank in Canada, and made a police report in June.
But by then, it was already too late.
“They (the scammers) were very professional,” she said.
“I usually help my friends out, and I didn’t know that this would happen to me.”
A police spokesman said such crimes are challenging to solve, and urged members of the public to exercise caution.
“A significant proportion of online commercial crimes are committed remotely by foreign syndicates that will continue to find ways to exploit and prey on the vulnerabilities of potential victims,” said the spokesman.
“The police will continue our efforts to educate the public from becoming victims of commercial crimes.”