IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

It's scratch and lose for victims from S'pore

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 30, 2013

Singaporeans are still falling victim to scratch-and-win scams in Malaysia - despite many warnings and an ongoing crackdown by the authorities across the Causeway.

And although the number of reported cases has fallen, the con artists are making off with more money each time.

The average amount stolen has hit $6,300, Singapore police statistics show, up from $4,000 last year. At least five victims have reportedly lost more than $10,000 each.

The scam works like this: The crooks approach the victims and ask them to try their luck with a scratch card.

They tell the victims they have won a mystery prize and ask them to go to an office to find out what it is. When they arrive, the con men reveal the "prize", usually cheap electrical goods, such as foot massagers.

The victims are offered the chance to win a more substantial prize, and asked to hand over cash in advance to cover bogus costs such as "taxes".

Malaysian police have been trying to clamp down on the scam, with some success.

Around 30 Singaporeans reportedly fell for it between January and May, down from 46 in the same period last year. But the amounts involved are on the rise.

Yesterday, Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao said a 39-year-old secretary had been cheated out of more than $25,000, the most lost by a victim from Singapore in a single case so far.

The permanent resident, who wanted to be known only as Ms Gong, was approached by two women last Monday at the pedestrian bridge linking the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex and City Square mall.

The area is a known hot spot for scammers.

After asking her to go with them to their office, the duo told her they represented large companies, such as local supermarket chains.

They then persuaded her to part with her money - on the pretext of excise tax - for a chance to win a luxury sedan.

Ms Gong said they were particularly convincing because they produced newspaper clippings and photographs that supposedly showed earlier winners with their big-ticket prizes.

She was later driven to Senai airport, where the con artists took a total of $25,200 from four of her credit cards at a money changer.

Johor police told Lianhe Zaobao that they arrested five suspects last Saturday. But Ms Gong said the ones who targeted her were not among them.

Investigations into her case are ongoing.

Yesterday, a Johor policeman told The Straits Times that a taskforce had been set up last month to tackle scratch-and-win scams.

At least eight suspects have been charged, said the officer, who asked not to be named because he did not have permission to speak to the media.

These included some of the alleged organisers.

"The scam is nothing permanent; it comes and goes," he said "They are just opportunists at work."

In February, police on both sides of the Causeway launched a series of pamphlets that have been distributed at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, as well as tourist spots in Johor.

One of them dealt with cheating scams. It advised people to be wary of "get-rich-quick" offers and avoid making payments for lucky draw "prizes".

yanliang@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 20, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/