SINGAPORE - Eager to get two Rolex watches to sell for a profit, watch collector Max (not his real name) paid a couple $280,000 for them and for a Patek Philippe watch.
He did so even before receiving the watches.
When the couple became uncontactable, he realised his money was as good as gone.
And Max is not the only one.
The Straits Times understands police reports have been made against the couple over undelivered luxury goods, mostly watches, worth at least $32 million.
Over the past week, ST spoke to 10 victims, aged between 24 and 52. They included a chef, an interior designer, an advertising manager and a retiree.
Most of them said they trusted the couple as their business was registered as a regulated dealer and had a certificate from the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to prove it.
In response to queries, a MinLaw spokesman said the business, named Tradenation, was registered as a precious stones and precious metals dealer on April 2.
"Registered dealers are regulated by the Registrar of Regulated Dealers only for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism purposes," said a MinLaw spokesman.
Tradenation submitted its registration application to MinLaw as it was conducting regulated dealing and at the point of registration, there were no grounds to refuse the registration, said MinLaw.
The spokesman added: "MinLaw has suspended Tradenation's registration due to the ongoing police investigations. As police investigations are ongoing, we are unable to comment further.
"If Tradenation is found guilty of an offence following the police investigations, MinLaw will terminate the registration of Tradenation."
Max, 48, who works in manufacturing, said he had entrusted most of his life savings to them in April.
He said: "I haven't slept properly in two months. I just keep thinking how stupid I was to trust them. My wife still doesn't know about the money I lost. How can I even tell her?"
Max made his first purchase with the couple last November.
He spent $72,000 on a Rolex Daytona and it was delivered to his home a month after he made the order. Max had the watch authenticated.
He said: "That was when I began trusting them. I even became friends with them and we would go out for dinner.
"I made eight more purchases with them in a span of three months, but sold most of those watches to make a profit."
His nightmare started when the watches he ordered in April never arrived. The couple blamed the delay on supply chain issues and avoided his calls.
He knew he had been scammed when he was added in a group chat on messaging platform Telegram with more than 140 other angry customers of the couple who also had not received their goods, which included Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags, and Rolex and Patek Philippe watches.
The group chat was created by the couple in June to inform their customers of the delay. Victims said the couple threatened them in the chat that if they made police reports, they would not receive their goods.
Choking up, Max said: "I feel betrayed. I went on holiday with my wife and kids last month, and I had to put up a front that I was okay, because I couldn't tell my family."
Another person who lodged a police report against the couple was Ms Tan, 24, a fresh graduate from a local university, who works in marketing. She had paid $62,500 for a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in March but it never arrived.
Ms Tan, who declined to reveal her full name, said the watch was supposed to be a post-graduation gift to herself.
She said: "The watch would normally cost $70,000, so I thought it was a good deal. They had multiple good reviews and I also bought a $27,000 Rolex from them in October last year which was delivered in a month. So, I trusted them completely."
Ms Tan said she feels helpless, adding: “I just don’t think I will see that money again, which is frustrating because it is my hard-earned money I worked for by doing event jobs while studying.”
Another victim, Mr Wang, lost $68,000 after placing an order for two Rolex watches as he felt they would be a good investment.
Also declining to reveal his full name, Mr Wang, who works in advertising, 39, said: "I'm not a watch enthusiast, but I thought I could buy watches now and sell them for a profit.
"I saved up for many years to buy the watches. All I can say is this was such a bad investment."
- Additional reporting by Olivia Kam
What to look out for when buying luxury goods from resellers/dealers
- Pay a deposit upon ordering the goods. Do not pay the full amount until you have received them.
- Make payment via a bank transfer and request for a receipt.
- Check the seller's reviews across various platforms.
- Purchase from sellers who have physical stores.
- Buying from an approved and licensed dealer is safer than buying from an unregulated entity.
- Walk away from deals that seem too good to be true.
Sources: Mr William Tan, manager of luxury goods dealer Watch Exchange, and Mr Tom Chng, founder of Singapore Watch Club.