Cleaner cheated of $400,000: More than 70 readers offer to help

Madam Goh Kah Keow, who was swindled by five China nationals, lives alone in a studio flat and leads a frugal life.
Madam Goh Kah Keow, who was swindled by five China nationals, lives alone in a studio flat and leads a frugal life.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

More than 70 people who read about how Madam Goh Kah Keow was cheated of her life savings by con artists have come forward to help the cleaner.

Most of them offered to donate money to the 74-year-old, who was swindled of about $400,000 in cash and jewellery by five China nationals last November.

Two of the five suspects have since been sentenced to jail for more than eight years for the scam. The other three remain at large.

Madam Goh never married, lives alone in a studio flat and leads a frugal life. She would even, for example, go to bed by 7pm to save on her utility bills.

She started earning her own keep from the tender age of 10; first as a babysitter, then as a washerwoman. She was also a factory worker for a while and took on a host of cleaning jobs.

"I would work on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes, I would try to pack in three different cleaning jobs one after another, just to earn extra cash," she said.

She now works part-time for two cleaning companies and earns $700 a month.

Her story in last weekend's SundayLife! was shared more than 26,500 times on Facebook. Many also wrote in to The Straits Times to say their hearts went out to her.

Besides offering cash - one couple sent a cheque for $1,000 for Madam Goh - and groceries, five readers also said they wanted to pay for her massage sessions. This after they read that Madam Goh had rheumatic knees, which needed regular therapy that cost $40 for each session.

Said web designer Dennis Lim, 35: "I've seen my grandmother and mother suffer from bad knees, so I felt it was only right to try and pay for Madam Goh's massage bills."

Initially, Madam Goh declined the help and donations. "If I take the money, I have no way of repaying their kindness - I don't want that," she said, adding that she was also afraid that "people may take my money again".

She did, however, change her mind a few days later, after speaking to her elder sister and a friend, who encouraged her to accept the help.

"They told me not to be afraid and take the money because I am already so old," she said in Mandarin. "How many more years can I keep on working?"

Madam Goh told The Sunday Times that she is resigned to not getting her money back.

Her greatest fear now is dying at home alone and penniless.

One of her friends, Ms Linda Tan, 50, however, promised Madam Goh that she would not let that happen.

"I've known her for more than 20 years and she's like a mother to me", said Ms Tan. "I see it as my duty to take care of her."

brynasim@sph.com.sg