SINGAPORE - Only 48 hours after he arrived in Singapore to begin his first year for a master's degree in chemistry at a local university, Albert (not his real name) received a phone call from officers claiming to be from the Ministry of Health, that sent him into a panic.
The 24-year-old Chinese national was told he was involved in money laundering activities and the call was subsequently transferred to scammers claiming to be police officers in China.
The conmen sent him official-looking documents and even conducted video calls to convince him to transfer $70,000 to them. The money was from his parents and was meant for his living expenses in Singapore. He later also transferred another $130,000, making it a total of $200,000.
They explained that his particulars had been used to open a bank account in China that was involved in money laundering activities and the money was needed for "investigation purposes".
Speaking to the media on Wednesday about the scam that began in late July, Albert said: "I was afraid. They said if I didn't comply, they would come to Singapore to arrest me. I kept thinking, what if it's true? What if they really can do that?"
He said the scammers were firm and authoritative, adding: "It felt real. They sent photos of their police badges and when I saw them through the video calls, they were wearing police uniforms."
Little did he know he had fallen victim to a China official impersonation scam, of which 287 reports were made in the first half of this year, said the police in response to queries from The Straits Times.
The total amount cheated out of victims was $34.6 million, with the largest amount in a single case being $1.8 million.
Last year, 323 reports of this type of scam were made in the first half of the year. A total of 750 cases were reported for the whole of last year, with $106.3 million lost by victims.
While most scam victims do not want to speak publicly about being cheated, Albert said he wanted his story known to warn others that anyone can be vulnerable to scams.
Even after Albert had transferred $70,000 to them, the scammers convinced him they needed more money that would be used to bail him out if he were to be arrested.
"That was when I asked my parents for $130,000. They didn't question me because I'm their only son and they trusted me," Albert recalled.
He transferred his parents' money, which was the majority of their life savings, to the scammers. His father, 54, is a business consultant in the coal industry, while his mother, 53, works as an administrative executive in a school. They live in a city in northwest China.
Throughout the month of August, Albert was in constant contact with the scammers. They called him every day and warned him not to tell anyone about them. In late August, they even convinced him to send a video of himself to aid in their investigations.
The last thing he expected was for that video to be sent to his parents.
"They told my parents I was kidnapped and demanded a ransom from them. They used the video I sent them as proof that they had me," Albert said.
Though in shock, his parents asked their friend in Singapore to make a police report.
"I only realised everything was a lie when the Singapore police found me and told me that I had been scammed. I called my mother after that and she was relieved I was safe. But all the money was gone for good - every single cent," said Albert.
He said he never expected to be a victim of a scam, let alone one that involved his parents and their money.
While he is worried about how he will get by with what's left in his bank account, Albert's biggest concern is his parents.
"I feel so guilty about everything. My greatest regret is that I did not tell my parents what happened from the beginning. They would have warned me that it was a scam, but I chose to keep quiet," he said.
Albert said even though his parents have forgiven him, his relationship with them has soured.
"I call them every day and it has not been easy. There's tension between us and I don't blame them. I just hope they can trust me again."