'Anti Terrorism Certificate' claim raises alarm bells of bank staff, Internet love scam thwarted

Ms Joanna Ng Lay Kheng and Assistant Commissioner of Police Tan Tin Wee at the Bedok Police Division on Sept 7, 2017, where Ms Ng was commended for her vigilance in preventing a victim from falling prey to an Internet love scam.
Ms Joanna Ng Lay Kheng and Assistant Commissioner of Police Tan Tin Wee at the Bedok Police Division on Sept 7, 2017, where Ms Ng was commended for her vigilance in preventing a victim from falling prey to an Internet love scam.ST PHOTO: CLARA CHONG

SINGAPORE - It was business as usual at OCBC's Tampines branch on Aug 30, until a 55-year-old man entered the branch at about 1pm.

He wanted to remit $17,100 to a person in Malaysia, claiming that the money was for the payment of an "Anti Terrorism Certificate", a form required to clear a parcel that was sent to him by an unknown woman from New Zealand, because the parcel was stuck at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) customs.

Hearing the man's explanation, customer service manager Joanna Ng Lay Kheng felt that something was amiss. "No such form exists," she said. "If the parcel was meant for him, why can't it go directly to him and instead have to go via the KL customs?"

Her quick thinking helped to prevent the man from falling prey to what was later discovered to be an Internet love scam. On Thursday (Sept 7), Ms Ng was commended for her vigilance by Bedok Police Division at a ceremony.

After speaking to the man, Ms Ng alerted the bank's fraud team who then went to the police. Officers from the Bedok Police Division managed to intercept the remittance and successfully prevented the victim from suffering further losses.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the victim met the woman said to be from New Zealand on a social networking site and eventually developed a romantic relationship with her in the past month.

Since he got to know her, the victim had transferred more than $25,000 on various occasions.

Commander of Bedok Police Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Tan Tin Wee praised Ms Ng for her timely intervention, saying: "It is indeed heartening to see the strong working partnership between the police and the community. The vigilance displayed by Ms Ng is commendable."

The case comes even as Internet love scams are on the rise. In the first half of this year, the number of Internet love scam cases jumped by 26 per cent to hit 349 cases, from 277 cases in the same period last year.

The total amount cheated increased by 97.3 per cent to $22.1 million in the first half of 2017, compared to $11.2 million a year ago.

The largest amount cheated in a single case for the first half of this year was close to $6 million.

Said Assistant Commissioner Tan: "Modern Internet banking has become very frictionless. It is important for the public to be aware and not transfer large amounts of money to people they have not met before."