Banks and police work to thwart scams targeting customers

(From left) OCBC branch manager Winnie Chng, OCBC customer service manager Goh Swee Lee and Senior Staff Sergeant Muhammad Hasif. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

SINGAPORE - A widow was so deeply ensnared in a scam that she attempted to transfer money to the perpetrator three times despite attempts by bank staff to dissuade her from doing so.

She was finally convinced that she had been duped by her "boyfriend" after he failed to attend a video call arranged in the evening by the staff as well as repeated advice from the police.

"We also told the customer that this call was not going to happen... The scammer was just trying to pick a time when the bank was already closed and nobody would be there for her," OCBC branch manager Winnie Chng said during a media session organised by the police on Tuesday (Aug 24).

A national webinar on scams was held on Wednesday, and mid-year crime statistics are to be released by the police later this month.

The widow's incident was one of the cases in which the efforts of the Jurong Police Division and banks managed to thwart scams between January and June this year.

This partnership prevented more than $162,000 in all from being transferred to scammers, the police said in a statement on Friday.

The widow, 57, had visited the OCBC branch in Choa Chu Kang on June 14, 15 and 17.

Each time, she wanted to transfer about $10,000 to an individual she claimed was her boyfriend, saying it was to help him with his business.

The widow claimed she met the individual years ago, but started talking to him only after her husband died.

The bank staff became suspicious after noticing that the payment was to be made to a personal bank account in Thailand, even though the "boyfriend" was allegedly based in the United States with his daughter.

They attempted to dissuade her from making the transfer, and refused to help her do so when she persisted with her request.

The third time she was there, bank staff arranged a video call between the widow and her "boyfriend", which they would also attend.

But the scammer did not take the call and the woman later admitted that she had been duped.

In another case involving the same OCBC bank branch, a customer asked the staff to help her transfer $34,000 to an account purportedly belonging to Malaysia's immigration authority.

She had received text messages supposedly from the agency stating that her boyfriend had been detained over a parcel containing cash, and demanding money before he is released.

The woman insisted on the transfer even after the bank staff told her, among other things, that government agencies would not contact individuals and ask for money in this way.

The customer agreed to cancel the transfer after speaking to the branch's customer service manager Goh Swee Lee, who had also tried to persuade her that she had been duped.

Ms Goh said on Tuesday that she had asked the woman to call the boyfriend and verify the alleged incident with him.

"She said the boyfriend was already detained at Malaysian Customs... There was no way for her to contact him," said Ms Goh.

Another would-be victim was also caught in a scam involving the impersonation of foreign authorities.

She received a call claiming that she was involved in a crime linked to funds intended by the Singapore Government for the purchase Covid-19 vaccines, and instructing her to transfer $4,000 from her bank account.

The elderly woman was later convinced that the call was a scam by police officers and a UOB bank staff member, who had found her request suspicious.

Scams made up 42.1 per cent of the total reported crimes last year, according to figures released by the police in February.

The number of scams reported last year hit a record high at 15,756 cases, with scammers taking more than $201 million from their victims.

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