$1m lost to online purchase scams

Posed photo of person holding a mobile phone and handing out money.
Posed photo of person holding a mobile phone and handing out money. PHOTO: ST FILE

"John" thought he was getting a good deal for a PlayStation 4, which he saw priced at $350 on the Carousell website. But several weeks later - following a call from the police - he realised he had fallen victim to a scam which left him $12,350 poorer.

Victims here have lost at least $1 million through e-commerce scams from January to September this year, according to figures released by police yesterday.

There were 1,491 cases reported in that period, up from 1,336 cases in 2015. The biggest amount lost by a single victim was more than $31,000.

Victims are often told to pay in advance for attractively priced items such as electronic gadgets and tickets. Some are then asked to make further payments for Customs clearance fees, delivery charges and taxes for their purchase - which is never delivered.

John initially requested a refund from the seller after being told repeatedly there would be a delay in getting his video game console, as there were issues with the supplier. The seller promised a full refund of $350 and an extra $100 for the inconvenience caused. But when they met up, the seller said he did not have money to refund John. He also claimed he had to borrow $2,000 to refund some buyers.

Out of pity, John decided to lend the seller $12,000 so that he could refund the other buyers first. He later learnt from the police that there was no supplier and he had been duped.

In another case in March, a 20-year-old waiter made multiple payments for a rose gold iPhone 6S he had seen on Craiglist. He failed to get the iPhone, priced at $650 on the platform, and lost $13,350 in the process. He transferred $650 to the seller's POSB account, but was later asked to pay $600 for clearance fees. He also made other payments such as for bogus stamp duty. On the final occasion, he was told to pay $3,600 as clearance fees for five iPhones that the seller claimed had been shipped over by accident. When asked to pay a further $6,000, he decided to lodge a police report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline '$1m lost to online purchase scams'. Print Edition | Subscribe