Man jailed for role in impersonation scam

He let bank account be used by syndicate to receive $56,900 in laundered money

A money mule allowed his bank account to be used by a syndicate to receive laundered money of about $57,000, which he converted mostly into Alipay credits.

Zhang Mingwei, 23, converted $31,185 of the $56,900 deposited into his DBS Bank account into Alipay credits, remitted $10,000 to a bank account and gambled away $12,562. He used about $30 on miscellaneous personal expenses, and deposited $3,000 back into his bank account. Upon his arrest on March 27, he had only $92.

Alipay is an online payment system through which users can buy Alipay credits to spend with merchants that have Alipay accounts.

On Thursday, the Chinese national, who acted as a runner for a syndicate, was jailed for 28 months for scheming with a man purporting to be a China Interpol officer.

The court heard he had reasonable grounds to believe he was helping to hold monies gained by an unknown person through criminal conduct.

Between March 20 and 22, three people were duped into giving their bank details after receiving calls from individuals claiming to be from the China or Singapore police. The bogus cops convinced the male victims they were investigating money laundering cases or some other serious offences in China, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min.

Threatened with prosecution, the victims gave the log-in details for their Internet banking accounts, along with the one-time passwords. Subsequently, they reported that $35,500, $6,900 and $14,500 were electronically transferred out of each of their bank accounts.

Zhang joined the scam after browsing through the QQ Forum platform in March. He had contacted someone claiming to be a China Interpol officer on a different matter.

On March 15, the "China Interpol officer" called Zhang and offered him a "job" - allow his DBS account to be used to receive money in return for $450. After Zhang agreed, the "officer" gave him an e-mail address linked to an Alipay account, to which the Alipay credits could be charged. But after the transfers were done, the "officer" became furious with Zhang when he found out that $12,562 had been lost gambling in a casino. The "officer" threatened to kill Zhang unless he returned the money.

He told Zhang to deposit the money he had left - $3,000 in cash - back into his DBS account and not to touch it again. Zhang complied.

DPP Thiam asked for Zhang to be given at least 28 months' jail, saying he was motivated by the promise of a reward and acted with wilful disregard. She also said he had the audacity to gamble away a large part of the money. She said: "Police impersonation scam cases are notoriously difficult to investigate as they involve transnational syndicates, operating from abroad, and these syndicates make use of runners to carry out their tasks."

There were 487 reported cases involving the "China officials (police) impersonation scams" up to the end of last year, and the total amount cheated was $23 million, the prosecutor added.

"Such offences run the risk of causing irreparable damage to Singapore's reputation as a financial hub, if they are not met by sufficiently deterrent punishment," she told District Judge Kenneth Yap.

Zhang could have been fined up to $500,000 and/or jailed for up to 10 years for the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) offence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Man jailed for role in impersonation scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe