More than 20 investors who put around $7 million into a gold buyback scheme run by local firm Suisse International are now worried that they cannot get their money back.
Not only is its owner uncontactable, they said, but the company's office at Keypoint in Beach Road has also been closed.
The last message the investors received was from the firm's vice-president, Ms Belinda Hah, in the first week of January. That was when she informed them via SMS that their money was stuck in a transfer to the firm's Hong Kong branch - Suisse HK.
No further details were given on how investors could get their money back. At least three of them have gone to the police, and engaged debt collection agency JMS Rogers to locate Ms Hah.
The investors were all introduced by their friends to Ms Hah and her partner Jeffrey Chow. He is believed to be the son of the company's registered owner, Mr Chaw Soo Ha.
"After we joined, we also brought our friends in because (Suisse) promised to give us better returns and sell us gold at a cheaper rate if we recommended others," said operations manager Louis Tan, 36, who put in $40,000 last June.
It was easy to convince their friends to join because the company promised them about $1,000 a month, which worked out to a 20 per cent return, for every kilogram of gold they bought.
The investors were told that the profit came from melting the gold and turning it into limited-edition coins or other novelty items, which were sold overseas or to other local companies. The investors also said they were told Suisse International was headed by a former police officer, and that bolstered their confidence.
"We also saw other people receiving cheques when we agreed to invest," said housewife Y.H. Yang, 53, who had put in $2.2 million since April last year.
Investors began worrying last December when Ms Hah delayed their payouts, citing cashflow concerns. She also said investors would get cash payouts instead of cheques, as the firm was trying to avoid the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) scrutiny.
The MAS had put both the Singapore company and its Hong Kong branch on its Investor Alert List last November. Both firms, despite one being located in Hong Kong, are listed with the same Beach Road address on the list.
"That's when we knew something was wrong. How can a company claim to be legitimate if it was worried about the authorities?" said Mr Tan.
The Straits Times tried contacting Ms Hah, but calls went unanswered. A visit to the firm's office yesterday also found it closed.
When The Straits Times went to Mr Chaw's Bishan flat, neighbours said that they had not seen him for about six months.
Madam Yang, who also sold her ancestral home in Shanghai to bankroll her investment, said: "I'm worried that I've been cheated. That was my life savings and money saved for my nine-year-old daughter's future."
The police said it was inappropriate to comment on the case as investigations are ongoing.
Additional reporting by Joanna Seow