'I had trusted him as a friend': Elderly man who lost savings to volunteer

Mr Sai Bee Cheng (left) now gets by on the $1,000 a month he receives from renting out both bedrooms of his three-room flat and the $400 monthly allowance he gets from his children. Mr Sai had trusted Gay Chin Yin (above) with his ATM card, and ended
Mr Sai Bee Cheng (left) now gets by on the $1,000 a month he receives from renting out both bedrooms of his three-room flat and the $400 monthly allowance he gets from his children. Mr Sai had trusted Gay Chin Yin (above) with his ATM card, and ended up losing his life's savings.PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE
Mr Sai Bee Cheng (left) now gets by on the $1,000 a month he receives from renting out both bedrooms of his three-room flat and the $400 monthly allowance he gets from his children. Mr Sai had trusted Gay Chin Yin (above) with his ATM card, and ended
Mr Sai Bee Cheng (left) now gets by on the $1,000 a month he receives from renting out both bedrooms of his three-room flat and the $400 monthly allowance he gets from his children. Mr Sai had trusted Gay Chin Yin (above) with his ATM card, and ended up losing his life's savings.PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

Thief seemed to be an 'upright person' and was helpful to folk at senior activity centre

The 80-year-old man cheated of his life savings by a volunteer from a senior activity centre said he handed over his ATM card because he considered the man to be a friend.

"I trusted him as a friend because he has been around the centre for the last seven years and often helped us buy lunch or snacks," said Mr Sai Bee Cheng in Mandarin. His savings were wiped out after he entrusted 50-year-old Gay Chin Yin with his bank card.

"He seemed to be an upright person and I didn't suspect anything," said Mr Sai, who can be found at Sunlove Senior Activity Centre in Marsiling every morning.

On Friday, Gay was sentenced to 42 weeks in jail for stealing a total of $24,520 from Mr Sai's savings account, leaving only $2.69 behind.

Gay, who lived nearby, was a familiar face among the elderly at the centre. The former coffee shop assistant and signboard artist would drop by the centre in the morning to chat with the senior citizens over coffee after he finished his night shifts.

Gay also often lent them a hand with errands, such as helping them buy or carry heavy groceries and clean their homes.

On August 26 last year, the asthmatic Mr Sai, who also has a heart condition, did not feel fit enough to make the 10-minute walk to an automated teller machine (ATM) in the neighbourhood to withdraw the cash he needed.

So he turned to Gay and asked him to help him withdraw $500 from the machine.

Mr Sai gave him a slip of paper with his personal identification number, or PIN, written on it so that he could access the joint savings account Mr Sai shared with his wife.

But instead of returning Mr Sai his ATM bank card after making the withdrawal, Gay took advantage of the older man's poor eyesight and handed him a fake bank card.

Over a period of two months, Mr Gay used Mr Sai's card to make withdrawals ranging from $220 to $2,000, until the money in the account was emptied.

"My daughter spotted the fake card but by then it was too late," said the former odd-job worker.

However, he said he still manages to get by these days because he gets $1,000 monthly from renting out both bedrooms in his three-room flat.

He lives in a small extension room at the back, while his wife lives with his son to take care of their grandchildren. He gets a total of $400 allowance each month from three children.

"There is no point in being angry or sad now because it has happened," said Mr Sai resignedly.

His daughter said the family has yet to recover the money, which was meant to be his retirement funds.

Now Mr Sai no longer keeps any ATM cards in his wallet. If he needs money, he gets it from his wife who does the withdrawals.

He continues to frequent the centre and takes part in activities such as bingo. But he is more wary of people now.

"Those savings were what I managed to scrimp from renting out my house while I lived in a small extension room at the back so it does hurt," he said.

jantai@sph.com.sg