Man exploited fears amid Covid-19 pandemic, cheated victims looking for masks of $2k

Mohammad Zulhilmi Arif claimed to have masks for sale at $15 per box of 50 pieces. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It was the worst of times in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore in 2020 and masks were hard to come by, but for Mohammad Zulhilmi Arif, it was the best time to exploit fears.

The 23-year-old claimed he had masks for sale and took payment from those desperate for them. But he never delivered any, and cheated multiple victims of $2,302.50 in total.

On Wednesday (Jan 19), the Singaporean was sentenced to 14 weeks' jail after pleading guilty to three counts of cheating involving three victims who were duped of $1,515 in total.

He also admitted to one count of taking $1,700 of his ill-gotten gains out of Singapore.

Four other cheating charges linked to the remaining sum were considered during sentencing.

All the victims lost between $22.50 and $750.

Zulhilmi was operating an account on online marketplace Carousell, under the username "Xaviertan556", at the time of the offences, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Benjamin Samynathan.

On Feb 21, 2020, he created a listing on the platform, claiming to have masks for sale at $15 per box of 50 pieces.

A 41-year-old man contacted Zulhilmi via messaging platform WhatsApp later that day and after negotiating, decided to buy 300 boxes for $3,750.

He then transferred a 20 per cent deposit via PayNow to an account belonging to Zulhilmi, who claimed he could deliver the masks on Feb 24.

The victim requested that the masks be delivered to a company in Pandan Crescent, where an employee would pay the remaining sum.

But Zulhilmi failed to turn up as promised.

The DPP said: "Unknown to (the victim), the accused did not have 300 boxes of face masks available for sale and did not have the intention to deliver any face masks to (him).

The court heard that Zulhilmi used a similar method to cheat the other victims.

The same day he created the listing, he withdrew $1,700 of the ill-gotten gains and took the amount to Batam, Indonesia.

He was arrested when he returned to Singapore on Dec 3 last year.

The prosecutor told the court: "During investigations, the accused explained that he had gone to Batam in order to be with his girlfriend... who was pregnant with his child.

"He claimed to have spent the cash of $1,700 on his girlfriend's pregnancy and on their marriage."

Zulhilmi did not make restitution to his victims and court documents did not disclose what happened to the remaining sum.

For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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