Awards for alert staff who blocked two China call scams

(From left) Ms Li Fang from Zhongguo Remittance, and Ms Novianti and Mr Sameer Malik from Samlit Moneychanger. At both firms, a customer had wanted to remit a large sum of money to China, but the staff members noticed that something was wrong and cal
(From left) Ms Li Fang from Zhongguo Remittance, and Ms Novianti and Mr Sameer Malik from Samlit Moneychanger. At both firms, a customer had wanted to remit a large sum of money to China, but the staff members noticed that something was wrong and called the police.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

They became suspicious when 2 customers wanted to remit big sum of money to China

The scam involving calls from so-called Chinese officials is so widespread that more than $3.5 million was lost to scammers in 81 cases, just between January and July this year alone.

And there would have been two more victims on Sept 8, if not for alert staff at two separate businesses in People's Park Complex.

Within two hours of each other, both firms had a woman turn up, intending to remit money to China.

The two staff members did not allow the transaction to go through. They alerted the police and in one case, a woman was arrested.

For that, they received police commendations yesterday.

In the first incident, Ms Li Fang, 29, was manning the counter at Zhongguo Remittance on Sept 8 when a 61-year-old woman came in at around 10am, intending to remit $15,000 to China.

CIVIC DUTY

I feel good because I have helped stop a scam and protected an auntie's life savings. It's my responsibility as a citizen.

MS NOVIANTI, a general manager at Samlit Moneychanger, on helping to prevent an elderly woman from getting cheated.

But Ms Li noticed that she was flustered and did not know the recipient of the money. She informed her supervisor and the police were alerted.

It turned out that the woman had received a call from a man claiming to be from the Chinese police, who demanded that she remit a "refundable assurance fee" as she was suspected to be involved in money laundering.

About two hours later on the same day, a 75-year-old woman turned up at Samlit Moneychanger where Ms Novianti, who goes by one name, works as a general manager.

The elderly woman said she wanted to remit $40,000 to a bank account in China for her granddaughter.

The customer was accompanied by a 50-year-old woman, who at first claimed to be her daughter. This "daughter" repeatedly insisted on answering Ms Novianti's questions on behalf of her "mother".

Ms Novianti, 35, grew suspicious when the younger woman handed over an identity card that showed she was born in China. When quizzed, she changed her story and said she was actually the older woman's goddaughter. She also grew impatient with Ms Novianti's questions.

Staff at the money changer pretended to proceed with the remittance but called the police instead. The younger woman turned out to be part of a scam and was later arrested. Investigations are ongoing.

Ms Novianti and Ms Li received commendations from the police at a ceremony yesterday at the Police Cantonment Complex. Ms Novianti's colleague, Mr Sameer Malik, 27, also received an award for his role in thwarting the scam.

"I feel good because I have helped stop a scam and protected an auntie's life savings. It's my responsibility as a citizen," said Ms Novianti, who has worked at Samlit Moneychanger for four years.

"As scammers are constantly finding new ways to target and cheat their victims, the police and the public must work hand in hand to actively prevent scams." said Mr David Chew, director of the police's Commercial Affairs Department.

The police advise the public to ignore unsolicited calls, even if they may be from a local number as scammers are able to use technology to display a false number.

No government agency will request payment through a telephone call.

Anyone with information on such scams can call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000, or dial 999 for urgent police assistance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Awards for alert staff who blocked two China call scams'. Print Edition | Subscribe