Couple lost $277k in staycation scam on Carousell; 65% spike in scams in 2020

The victims were repeatedly assured by the Carousell seller that they would get their money back. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Planning a staycation at Marina Bay Sands turned into a nightmare for a young couple who were scammed over $277,000 by a Carousell seller, who offered discounted hotel stays in Marina Bay Sands.

Ivan and his girlfriend Jessica (not their real names), both in their 20s, were repeatedly assured by the Carousell seller that they would get their money back.

The 27-year-old even gave them an address to pick up the $277,000 he took from them in a bag full of cash, but he always cancelled the meetings at the last minute.

This was one of the 3,354 police reported e-commerce scams last year, the police announced on Tuesday (Feb 9) when releasing their yearly statistics.

Ivan and Jessica, both in their 20s, eventually decided to report him to the police and the scammer was charged in court last month.

"We usually go on Carousell for our staycations and we do that quite frequently. And so, when we chanced upon this seller, we went to look at his reviews as usual and saw he was quite reliable," said Ivan at a media conference held by the police on Monday.

The couple paid $29,000 initially for nine hotel suites with three-night stays.

However, the Carousell seller made up excuses to siphon more money off them, such as by claiming that they needed to pay cancellation fees even though he did not secure the booking for them.

He convinced them to transfer more money to him so that he could purportedly pay off other buyers and have his bank account unfrozen by the authorities.

To stop them from going to directly to the hotel, he told them that he booked the rooms under a Paiza membership which does not allow members to sell rooms.

He also claimed that he could pay them back, by showing them he had about $230,000 in his bank account.

Eventually, the couple gave him more than $277,000 over a four-month period.

The scammer offered fake Marina Bay Sands hotel stays through the e-commerce platform Carousell. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

"The reason why this amount went up so high is because we were so wrapped up in this situation and we didn't know what else to do, how to get this money back... (and) because he gave us hope that we will get this money back," said Ivan.

The scammer was arrested on Jan 21 and has been charged in court.

Carousell vice-president of operations Su Lin Tan told The Straits Times that the e-commerce platform strongly encourages users to use Carousell Protection when transacting on the e-commerce platform.

This payment feature holds off payment until a transaction is verified by both buyer and seller. Should there be a dispute or unsuccessful transaction, Carousell can step in to protect users. If the seller fails to fulfil his end of the transaction, the buyer will be fully refunded.

"Clamping down on fraud is a never-ending effort and we are constantly innovating to stay ahead of the curve and to keep one step ahead of opportunistic scammers, who evolve almost as quickly as we do," said Ms Tan.

A total of 15,756 scams were reported in 2020 - a 65.1 per cent jump in cases from the 9,545 reported in 2019.

E-commerce scams, which rose by 19.1 per cent last year, were the most commonly reported type of scams last year.

The total amount cheated in e-commerce scams increased to $6.9 million in 2020, from $2.3 million the year before. The largest sum cheated in a single case in 2020 was $1.9 million.

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