Trio commended by police for preventing phone scams totalling $55,000

(From left) Ms Li Fang, Ms Novianti and Mr Sameer Malik received a commendation from the police for helping thwart a scams.
(From left) Ms Li Fang, Ms Novianti and Mr Sameer Malik received a commendation from the police for helping thwart a scams. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Alarm bells went off for Ms Novianti, a money changer who goes by one name, when a 75-year-old female customer turned up on Sept 8 and asked to remit $40,000 to a bank account in China for her granddaughter.

The customer was accompanied by a 50-year-old Singaporean woman, who claimed to be her daughter, and repeatedly insisted on answering Ms Novianti's enquiries on her behalf.

Ms Novianti, 35, a general manager at the Samlit Moneychanger located at People's Park Complex, felt more suspicious when the companion later changed tune and said she was the god-daughter. This was after Ms Novianti found out that she was born in China upon checking her identity card.

When the companion got fed up with her questions and wanted to go to another remittance firm, Ms Novianti pretended to accept their business before calling the police.

It turned out that the "goddaughter" was an accomplice involved in a scam, who was later arrested. Investigations are now ongoing.

For her actions in thwarting a scam, Ms Novianti received a commendation from the police at a ceremony on Wednesday (Sept 20) at the Police Cantonment Complex, along with Mr Sameer Malik, 27, a colleague who had assisted her during the encounter.

"I feel good because I have helped stop a scam and protect an aunty's life savings. It's my responsibility as a citizen," said Ms Novianti, who has worked at Samlit for four years.

Singapore has seen a flurry of cases where victims receive phone calls from scammers masquerading as Chinese officials who instruct them to remit money to an overseas bank account. The police have encountered 81 similar cases from January to July this year, where more than $3.5 million were lost to scammers.

Another who received the commendation on Wednesday was Ms Li Fang, 29, an employee from Zhongguo Remittance also located at People's Park Complex, for her act in preventing a potential scam involving $15,000 on Sept 8.

She was helping a 61-year-old female victim who had appeared flustered and did not know the recipient of the remitted money. Ms Li informed her supervisor and the police was subsequently contacted.

It turned out that the victim had received a phone call from a man claiming to be from the Chinese police, who wanted her to remit a "refundable assurance fee" as she was suspected to be involved in money laundering.

"As scammers are constantly finding new ways to target and cheat their victims, the police and the public must work hand in hand to actively prevent scams." said Mr David Chew, director of the police's Commercial Affairs department.

The police advise the public to take the following precautions when receiving unsolicited calls from unknown parties:

- Members of the public are advised to ignore unsolicited calls, even if they may be from a local number, as scammers are able to use technology to display a false number.

- Those who receive a suspicious call from unknown numbers should hang up, wait five minutes, then call the number back to check the validity of the request.

- Ignore instructions to remit or transfer money. No government agency will inform you to make a payment through a telephone call, especially to a third party's bank account.

- Refrain from giving out personal information and bank details, whether on the website or to callers over the phone. Personal information and bank details such as internet bank account usernames and passwords, one-time-password codes from tokens, are useful to criminals.

- Call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before you act. You may be overwhelmed by emotion and err in your judgment.

- Anyone with information on such scams may call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000, or dial 999 for urgent police assistance.