A 75-Year-Old Pensioner Loses $1 Million in A Scam Involving Chinese Officials
More than a million dollars had been stolen from her Central Provident Fund (CPF) account and remitted to several bank accounts in Singapore and abroad within two months of her first phone chat with the crooks.
Madam Fong (not her real name – as she did not want to disclose her identity), aged 75, said the scammers called her three times a day while her husband was at work for eight weeks and then delivered a phone to her house so she could video call her on the video conferencing application TeamLink. The pensioner said the person who spoke to her claimed to be from the Chinese authorities and informed her that her name had come up in a money laundering case there in a conference call with the media sponsored by the Singapore Police Force on Friday (April 22). To safeguard them, he also advised her not to involve her family members.
Madam Fong, who has yet to collect any of the $1 million – her case is still being investigated – hopes that by coming out, she will bring attention to the threat known as China’s official impersonation frauds.
She is one of 109 people who have fallen victim, losing at least $14.6 million
“I felt they just wanted to safeguard my family,” Madam Fong, who lives with her husband as well as a domestic helper, said when asked if she thought it was weird that officials continually queried her over the phone about her relatives and friends’ whereabouts and if she was alone at home. Madam Fong, who used to own a chemical trading company with her husband, broke her back a few years ago and now uses a wheelchair on occasion.
She received a call purporting to be from the Ministry of Health
In mid-December, they connected her with an “agent” who informed her that her name had been linked to a money laundering case in China and that she should help with the investigation. Madam Fong consented and gave the agent her personal information, including her NRIC number and residence.
She then began receiving hand-delivered letters from government agencies in Singapore, including the police, the Attorney-Chambers, Generals, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Soon after, the scammers used the same way to send her a cellphone. “My house Wi-Fi isn’t very good,” Madam Fong explained, “so they said they’d send me a phone to enable me to chat and collaborate with them.” She has no recollection of authorizing the CPF money transfer to her UOB account, which would require Singpass authentication or the money transfer from her UOB account to the unknown bank accounts.
She also had no recollection of traveling to a UOB branch on Orchard Road to authorize the start of Internet banking for her bank account. Between January 28 and February 3, $1 million from her CPF account was deposited to her UOB account and then to other unknown accounts.
Madam Fong’s husband and daughter, who were present during the Friday conference call, indicated that while her mind is clear, she does forget things now and again.
A spokesman from UOB said on Friday that scammers would not be able to access customers’ funds as long as they do not share their banking details, passwords, and one-time passwords (OTPs) with anyone else. He added that for every Internet withdrawal, UOB would send an alert via SMS, and customers can then check transactions as they happen and report any unauthorized transactions to the bank.
“Withdrawals must also be authorized by the account holder only either by a digital or hard token,” he said. UOB alerted the police’s anti-scam center to Madam Fong’s transactions, and officers visited her at her home on February 4, but she was not convinced they were the police.
Madam Fong said she only realized she had been duped when she messaged the scammer after the police visit and did not get a reply.
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The advice the police and relevant authorities gave to her
The police said in an advisory on March 4 that overseas law enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction to conduct operations in Singapore, arrest anyone, or ask members of the public to help with any form of investigation without the approval of the Singapore Government.
They also recommended members of the public beware of calls with the “+” prefix, which originate from overseas. If you receive such calls, you should ignore them and the callers’ instructions, the police said. They stressed that people should never share their Singpass and bank account login details and one-time passwords with anyone else, including family and friends. “No government agency will instruct payment through telephone calls or other social messaging platforms (WeChat, WhatsApp, or Facebook) or ask you for personal banking information such as your Internet banking passwords,” the police said.
Recipients of such calls should also contact a trusted friend or relative before they act, authorities added. “You may be overwhelmed by emotion and may err in your judgment. Do not be pressured by the caller to act impulsively.” A UOB spokesperson also said the bank’s systems are secure and reminded customers that scammers could not access their funds as long as they do not share their banking details, passwords, and one-time passwords.
The victim is hoping to reclaim part of the money that was stolen
Madam Fong should be enjoying the fruits of her labor in retirement after working so hard for so many decades.
However, she lost a sum that some individuals may never see in their lifetime due to the scammers’ clever methods. We hope she is successful in recovering all of her hard-earned funds. We also hope that the authorities are successful in apprehending the con artists. Meanwhile, we advise the general people to remain watchful in order to safeguard themselves and their money.
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