Girl was 16 when she helped foreign scam syndicates as ATM runner

SINGAPORE - An 18-year-old girl on Monday admitted to her role in a money laundering operation that was connected to phishing scams, with the teenager and several others helping to funnel about $600,000 through bank accounts they had helped to obtain.

Court documents showed she was the only girl in the group of eight that helped the foreign syndicates obtain bank accounts.

The girl, who turned 18 on Jan 4, pleaded guilty to crimes including giving a false statement and an offence under the Organised Crime Act.

She cannot be named as she was below 18 when she committed the offences between late 2021 and early 2022.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Jason Chua said the girl had acted as an “ATM (automated teller machine) runner” by assisting the group in moving monies belonging to scam victims who had accounts with OCBC bank.

She withdrew more than $100,000 from ATMs before handing over the monies to the other group members.

The DPP added: “While the accused was not the most senior member of the group, her role was not insignificant... She was paid about $1,000 for her efforts.”

She was one of several people charged in 2022 over their alleged links to the phishing scams, which led to victims losing some $12.8 million.

Some of the offenders, including Mark Teo Sin Yan, 32, and Leong Jun Xian, then 21, were dealt with in court earlier.

The cases involving several others, including Kong Jia Quan and Muhammad Khairuddin Eskandariah, both 20, are pending.

DPPs Chua and Ronnie Ang said in court documents that the girl and other accused persons had sourced for and provided control of bank accounts to members of crime syndicates believed to be based overseas.

They opened bank accounts and gave the syndicates the account credentials.

“Some of these bank accounts were subsequently used to receive and dissipate funds from the (scams involving OCBC customers), while other bank accounts were used to receive and dissipate funds from victims of other scams,” the prosecutors added.

The syndicates also told the group to withdraw cash from ATMs, by giving them instructions on messaging platform Telegram.

The girl, who opened a DBS bank account with her Singpass details, was a member of three Telegram chat groups used by the offenders.

In all, the group provided at least 16 bank accounts to the syndicates in the Telegram group chats between December 2021 and February 2022, receiving nearly $600,000 from different scams, including those involving OCBC customers.

Between Dec 8, 2021, and Jan 19, 2022, the police received 768 reports from OCBC bank account holders who had fallen prey to phishing scams.

OCBC said in January 2022 that it had made full goodwill payouts to all victims.

The girl, who pleaded guilty to giving a false statement, had lied to the police on Dec 30, 2021, when she claimed that she had withdrawn cash on behalf of a fictitious person named “firewin888”, who she said reached out to her on Telegram.

Claiming that she had been threatened by firewin888, she said the cash was kept in a red paper bag which was placed outside her home for collection by the Telegram user.

As a result of the false statement, officers from both the Criminal Investigation Department and Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre were diverted to review footage from devices such as police cameras around her estate to try to spot a person carrying a red paper bag.

As the statement was false, the police were unable to find anyone carrying a red paper bag, and they had to interview the girl again.

She is expected to be sentenced on Feb 13.

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