A 72-year-old woman went to a bank to withdraw $200,000 in cash from four fixed deposit accounts to "help a friend who was facing an issue with foreign immigration".
Little did she know she was about to lose her money in an Internet love scam - and were it not for two quick-thinking staff at the Maybank branch in Chinatown, she almost certainly would have.
Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, the bank's senior customer service officer Christine Ting, 47, and assistant service manager Doreen Ong, 55, told how they became suspicious and spent almost an hour in total getting more information from the retiree, stalling for time while their colleagues alerted the Commercial Affairs Department.
Ms Ting, who attended to the customer first on Aug 2, said the woman insisted on getting the money in cash, which the bank advises against for big sums.
"She said she didn't mind small notes and she needed it as soon as possible. I got suspicious because it's such a big amount of money, and she wanted it immediately."
The English-speaking woman wanted to deposit the money in another local bank account that belonged to her "friend's friend".
Ms Ting gathered more information, then alerted Ms Ong.
The victim, who is believed to be single, was "very insistent" on withdrawing the money, Ms Ong said.
Ms Ong managed to see a WhatsApp message on the woman's phone that said: "If the bank asks, tell them it's for renovation."
Ms Ong told her that there had been a recent spate of scam incidents in Singapore. The victim said she was aware of the fraud but insisted that this was "not a scam". "I'll take responsibility; it's my money," she told Ms Ong. "My friend is waiting for the money, and I am here because I want to help him."
Ms Ong told her that the sum was large and it would take time to arrange. The woman, who had gone to the branch at about 10am, said she needed the money by 11.30am.
She left the bank empty-handed shortly before the "deadline".
When police officers arrived, bank staff phoned her, telling her she needed to return, which she did. Bank staff said the officers took over from there.
Between January and May this year, victims, mostly women, were cheated of $8.9 million in Internet love scams. Perpetrators, who usually claim to be foreigners, target victims looking for love or friendship online.
Police said the woman had been communicating with an "unknown suspect" via Facebook messaging and WhatsApp for over five years and had transferred a total of $75,500 on two previous occasions.
When police told her that she had been the victim of a love scam, she did not believe them. However, after a home visit the next day, officers finally managed to convince her and prevent her from transferring funds. Ms Ting said: "It's hard-earned money. It shouldn't be so easy to give it to other people."
Investigations are ongoing.