Faceboook chat led to online 'tax' scam that cost woman $3k

The victim said the stranger sounded like her Facebook "friend". After transferring the money, she made a police report that same day.
The victim said the stranger sounded like her Facebook "friend". After transferring the money, she made a police report that same day.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Just three days after chatting with a stranger on Facebook, Ms Tan (not her real name) gave him her home address in Singapore.

Claiming to be a 35-year-old ethnic Chinese engineer born in Singapore but based in the US, he told her he was sending her a pair of shoes as a present. He also called her on the mobile phone through Facebook.

After a few days, he said instead of the shoes, he will be sending her a box that includes phones, a laptop, gold bars, and cash.

To receive it, the 40-year-old mother of two had to pay "shipping taxes" through him.

Ms Tan, who is married, ended up losing $3,000 on Jan 29 this year. At the time, she had known the scammer for just eight days.

Speaking to the media on Friday (Feb 9), she said the "friend" used the fact that he knew her address to threaten her, saying that he would send her and her family "something she would not like" if she refused to transfer the money.

She also received calls on a local Whatsapp number from a man claiming to be a courier. He pressed her to pay up, and also fork out an additional $12,600 in "taxes".

Ms Tan said he sounded like her Facebook "friend". After transferring the money, she made a police report that same day.

She never recovered the $3,000 which she later learnt ended up in a bank account in Malaysia.

"I didn't dare tell my husband about it," she said, adding that a few of his relatives had been victims of such scams as well.

She added: "My friends and I talked about such scams so many times, so I thought we were well aware. I never expected to become one of the victims too."

A record $37 million in unrecoverable funds was lost last year, involving 825 reported cases. Some $24 million was lost in 2016.

Last December, Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department and the Royal Malaysia Police Commercial Crime Investigation Department launched an investigation into a cross-border syndicate that had cheated at least 10 Internet love scam victims out of more than $240,000.Two women and a man were arrested, 21 bank accounts were frozen and more than $50,000 was recovered, the Singapore Police Force in a statement on Thursday (Feb 8).

The maximum punishment for acquiring or transferring criminal benefits under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Offences (Confiscation of Benefits) Act is up to 10 years' jail, a fine of up to $500,000, or both.

Police advised the public to be careful when befriending strangers online. People should also be wary if asked to send money to those whom they do not know.

For more information on scams, members of the public can visit scamalert.sg or call the Anti-Scam Hotline at 1800-722-6688. Anyone with information on such scams may call the Police hotline at 1800-255 0000 or submit information online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.