When cops 'cheat' people for a good cause

Inspector Jason Chua said that the idea for the vending machine was inspired by stories from victims of online scams.
Inspector Jason Chua said that the idea for the vending machine was inspired by stories from victims of online scams.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER
When "victims" realised they were scammed, an officer would approach them.
When "victims" realised they were scammed, an officer would approach them.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER
The Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre thought of "cheating" people with unbelievable deals from vending machines.
The Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre thought of "cheating" people with unbelievable deals from vending machines.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - The deal at the vending machine — just $1 for a power bank, or a charging cable — was too good to be true.

She was suspicious, but because her daughter kept pestering her, she put a dollar in anyway.

A box was dispensed and she thought she had got a good deal.

But it contained only a note and she realised she had just been scammed.

Fortunately, the people who "cheated" her were none other than the police.

And she had inadvertently played her part in their experiment to teach the public a lesson so they can avoid being cheated by real scammers.

In its mid-year report, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the number of Internet-related crime has gone up.

In the first half of last year, 150 people were cheated in Internet love scams. In the same period this year, there were 298 such cases.

  • Top 10 reported scams for January to June

  • 1. Online purchase scams

    Number of cases: 995
    Amount cheated: $765,100

  • 2. Credit-for-sex scam

    Number of cases: 440
    Amount cheated: $918,200

  • 3. Internet love scam

    Number of cases: 298
    Amount cheated: $11,600,000

  • 4. Chinese officials impersonation scam

    Number of cases: 175
    Amount cheated: $12.9m

  • 5. Phoney PayPal scam

    Number of cases: 82
    Amount cheated: $71,000

  • 6. ICA/MOM/SPF/MHA impersonation scam

    Number of cases: 61
    Amount cheated: $179,700

  • 7. Lottery scam

    Number of cases: 41
    Amount cheated: $714,100

  • 8. Microsoft phones scam

    Number of cases: 34
    Amount cheated: $14,200

  • 9. Kidnap scam

    Number of cases: 8
    Amount cheated: $60,800

  • 10. Line impersonation scam

    Number of cases: 3
    Amount cheated: $2,700

  • Total amount cheated:
     $27.2 m (figure rounded off)

  • Source: Singapore Police Force

The police are concerned and the Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) thought of "cheating" people with unbelievable deals from vending machines.

On Aug 27, they installed a vending machine outside the Sports Hub Library. On Aug 31, they installed another at Bedok Bus Interchange.

Each machine offered power banks and charging cables at the low price of $1 each.

But the boxes dispensed only contained advisories on scams.

Officers from Marine Parade NPC's Community Policing Unit (CPU) are stationed at both locations daily.

When "victims" realised they were scammed, an officer would approach them, and ask if there was anything inside the box.

The officers would reveal themselves and tell the person that he or she had have been cheated.

Victims can get their money back by pressing a button on the machine.

The vending machines attract between 20 and 30 victims a day.

When The New Paper visited the interchange on Monday, about 10 people stopped to inspect the vending machine in an hour.

Four others actually fell prey to the machine.

Housewife Sunita Abdullah, 44, was at Bedok on Monday with her daughter, who is in primary school, when they passed by the vending machine.

The girl insisted on trying it out, but to their dismay, the box only had a note.

Madam Sunita took a moment to realise she had been scammed.

Inspector Jason Chua, deputy officer-in-charge of Marine Parade NPC's CPU, told TNP that the idea for the vending machine was inspired by stories from victims of online scams.

Insp Chua said: "We want to give the public a first-hand experience they can learn from, so they will be more careful next time."

The vending machines will remain for a month.

Another victim on Monday was student, Cheryl Koh, 13.

Cheryl told TNP that she needed a new charging cable and had been told by a friend that there was a vending machine at Bedok Interchange that sold cheap cables.

Said Cheryl: "I did wonder why it was so cheap, but I thought I would just try it. It was only a dollar, after all."

Another victim, Mr Muhd Noor Iman, 18, told TNP he had needed a cable and had thought the deal was real.

The Institute of Technical Education student noted: "It's a good lesson to learn, to not be fooled so easily."

Senior Staff Sergeant Steven Goh from Marine Parade NPC, said that about 60 per cent of the victims were young people. The rest were mostly adults in their 30s.

He added: "We are trying to educate the public and emphasise the message that deals that are too good to be true are often fake."