SINGAPORE: In just 15 days, a Singaporean retiree, who goes by the alias Madam Tan, fell victim to a devastating scam, losing her entire life savings of S$1,078,053.62 (approximately US$787,938)
This unfortunate situation unfolded after she accepted a friend request from an unknown individual on Facebook.
Identifying himself as “Alvin,” the stranger purported to be the CEO of a British interior design firm and sought Madam Tan’s assistance in managing payments for materials required for his final project – a hotel in London.
He explained that he was unable to source materials from Chinese companies and had been directed to a specific one in Sabah.
He convinced her that he couldn’t communicate with Chinese companies due to his lack of Mandarin skills. Thus, relying on her to serve as an intermediary.
According to The Straits Times, Alvin initiated what seemed like “bank transfers” to Madam Tan’s account surpassing the material cost and promising that the funds would be credited in two to four days.
He further allayed her concerns by presenting her with counterfeit Barclays “bank transfer” statements from a British bank, ultimately persuading her to entrust him with her money.
However, these forged documents displayed inconsistencies, such as varying font sizes and formatting irregularities in the dates, clear indicators that they were fake.
Madam Tan’s costly trust: 22 transfers, a loan, and a scam
Between Sept 4 and 19, Madam Tan remained unaware of the deception, believing Alvin’s assurances that the transfers required several days for processing.
She even made 22 substantial transfers, each exceeding $20,000, and eventually borrowed $50,000 from her son for the final payment.
To fund these transactions, she withdrew money from her CPF account and took out a $24,000 bank loan.
“I didn’t have enough money and asked my son for $10,000, which made him suspicious, but I told him that it was for a business opportunity and that I would repay him when my fixed deposits matured.”
By that point, she had already taken out her fixed deposits to finance the transactions.
Devastating scam unravels
The scam unravelled on Sept 20 when Madam Tan received a phone call from a Malaysian number, claiming that her British “business partner” was detained at the airport due to carrying excessive cash.
Alvin also relayed the same story to her, further convincing her of its authenticity.
She was informed that to clear Alvin from the Malaysian authorities, she needed to pay $98,000.
However, her son’s suspicions were aroused, and he intervened, preventing her from sending more money.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, they attempted to contact the scammers, but their efforts were met with silence.
Madam Tan gave ST three phone numbers, but calls and messages to two of them received no response.
The third number, which she had used to communicate with the suspected scammer on WhatsApp, was no longer connected to the messaging app.
Madam Tan, who chose not to disclose her children’s occupations, expressed, “My children are so worried about me now because it looks like I cannot retire already.”
“I’ve been very frugal throughout my life. I worked when I was younger, and the money I saved was for me to use for healthcare in my older years, but now I’ve not only wiped out 40 years of my savings, I’m also in debt because of the bank loan,” she lamented.
She has filed two police reports, and the authorities are actively investigating the matter.
Her daughter has also reached out to the banks involved, including UOB, Standard Chartered, DBS Bank, and OCBC Bank, for assistance in recovering the lost funds.
All four banks have pledged to cooperate with the police in their inquiries.
Online community debates scam victim’s story and warns against digital trust
While the majority of online users expressed sympathy for the victim’s situation, a few raised questions about the completeness of the story, feeling that there might be a crucial detail omitted.
They appear to be inquiring about the rationale behind sending money to a stranger online, a reason that hasn’t been disclosed.
Some speculate that the woman might have fallen victim to a love scam, though they believe she might feel embarrassed to acknowledge it.
“…it’s a romance scam judging by how the story play out,” one user said.
Additionally, some individuals have expressed worry about the rising number of scam cases occurring daily and the increasing magnitude of financial losses suffered by victims.
As a result, they propose that it might be advisable to dissuade older individuals from engaging in digital activities, as they are the most susceptible targets for online scammers.
In the meantime, other comments suggested that individuals should exercise greater vigilance and refrain from placing trust in unknown online entities, especially concerning financial matters, in order to steer clear of falling victim to scams.
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