155 people lost over $12m in DHL phone scam

Posed photo of a person picking up the phone receiver.
Posed photo of a person picking up the phone receiver.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Some 150 people lost a total of over $12 million after falling for a phone scam in which fraudsters posing as staff from courier company DHL claimed they needed to remit cash to clear their names.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Charis Low revealed the sum - which was handed over between late March and last month - when the case of three Malaysian men suspected of being behind the scam was mentioned in court yesterday.

The prosecution has tendered an amended charge against them.

Hiu Sheng Fatt, 21, is alleged to have been in an arrangement to withdraw sums amounting to $143,800 from his United Overseas Bank (UOB) account, which represented an unknown person's benefits from criminal conduct.

Ooi Lun Xiang and Tee Jia Yong, both 22, are also said to have been in the arrangement to withdraw $143,800 from Hiu's UOB account on July 14.

If convicted under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, they could each be fined up to $500,000 and/or jailed for up to 10 years.

DPP Low said the trio came to Singapore on July 14 and withdrew $121,900 from Hiu's UOB bank account - money from victims of the DHL scam.

She asked that no bail be allowed for Hiu as he is a foreigner and presents a flight risk.

Between late March and the end of June this year, the police received more than 3,000 calls and reports about the scam, in which around 155 victims lost a total of more than $12 million.

Both Ooi and Tee were remanded for another week for investigations. The case will be mentioned again next Thursday.

Yesterday, three employees of remittance firm Samlit Moneychanger were given Public Spiritedness Awards by the Singapore Police Force for stopping two people from falling for the scam.

In one case, a 69-year-old Singaporean woman wanted to remit $50,000 to her "relative" in China on July 8.

Staff grew suspicious when she could not specify how she was related to the recipient. The amount was also a huge proportion of her life savings of around $70,000, according to the firm's assistant general manager Sameer Malik, 26.

Upon further questioning, she said she had received a phone call from someone claiming that she had a parcel containing illegal arms, passports and credit cards sent under her name via DHL to Shanghai.

She was told to remit the money if she wanted to clear her name. The caller even taught her what to say when the remittance company questioned her, said Mr Malik.

"To pressure her, they even told her that the Customs officer who handled her parcel would lose his job and be sent to jail if she doesn't send the money," he said.

Staff informed the Commercial Affairs Department and police.

The latter advised people who are in doubt or have information about such crimes to call their hotline on 1800-255-0000, or dial 999 for urgent police assistance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline '155 people lost over $12m in DHL phone scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe