Man sentenced to 3½ years' jail for cheating people of over $41,000 in face mask scam

Jason Chian pleaded guilty to seven charges for scamming four victims of over $20,000 through bogus bulk orders of masks. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean man was sentenced on Tuesday (July 28) to 3½ years' jail for masterminding a face mask scam to cheat seven people of over $40,000.

Jason Chian, 42, pleaded guilty to seven charges for scamming four victims of over $20,000 through bogus bulk orders of masks. Another 10 charges - some of which involved the other three victims - were also taken into consideration in his sentencing.

Chian had initially decided to venture into the sale of surgical masks in January, after observing an increase in demand for masks brought on by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

But by February, he was experiencing difficulties in securing supplies of masks due to the worldwide shortage of face masks.

Nonetheless, Chian used the down payment monies he had earlier received for his personal expenses.

Things escalated in mid-February 2020, when he was added to a WhatsApp group set up by one of the victims, which included other individuals that Chian would later go on to scam.

In this group chat, Chian introduced himself as a surgical face mask supplier of an assortment of brands, including "Evo" and "Diapro", and claimed that he was able to get supplies of these masks from his sources in Batam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

He then asked the victims to collate orders for surgical face masks from their friends and family before placing orders with him.

Chian also offered attractive prices for each box of masks, ranging between $16.80 to $25 for adult face masks if customers placed bulk orders.

The court also heard that Chian required the victims to place a 50 per cent down payment for their orders, and in order to convince the victims of the authenticity of their orders, he would also issue fictitious invoices forged on his mobile phone.

The size of these down-payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to sums over $5,000.

In total, Chian received $41,288.83 in down payments from seven different victims, between Feb 11 and March 5 this year. He failed to deliver all the bulk orders.

His misdeeds came to light when one of the victims - Ms Pang, a 39-year-old Singaporean - lodged a police report at Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre on March 9, saying that she had not received her order for 150 boxes of surgical face masks after placing a 50 per cent down payment with Chian.

Subsequently, at least five other similar police reports were made.

The only restitution Chian has made was two separate partial refunds of 15,000 yuan (equivalent to S$3,090.45, according to court documents) and 4,500 yuan (S$927.14) to two victims. These sums amount to about 9 per cent of the total amount victims were cheated of.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Matthew Choo asked for a heavier sentence, considering Chian's offences were clearly premeditated, as well as the substantial sum of money involved in the case.

He also asked for a deterrent sentence to serve as a warning to like-minded scammers, adding that Chian had worked to exploit the surge in demand for surgical face masks brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Preying on the global frenzy to secure surgical face masks, the accused exploited the vulnerabilities of the victims in order to profit from the global pandemic to satiate his greed for money," DPP Choo said.

"Overwhelmed by his greed and tempted by the prospects of easy money, the accused deliberately cheated the victims by deceiving them into believing that he could deliver surgical face masks to them, even when he realised that he could not secure any surgical face masks to deliver," DPP Choo said.

This is not Chian's first brush with the law. He was convicted in 2011 for forgery and criminal breach of trust, and again in 2013 for cheating and criminal breach of trust.

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