Moneylenders in Singapore on alert in wake of armed robbery cases

Loan services company Cash Mart has CCTV cameras covering the front of its shop in Balestier, says managing director Jimmy Lee. PHOTO: JIMMY LEE

SINGAPORE - Installing 360-degree cameras, working with security companies and going cashless.

These are some of the additional precautions pawnshops, money changers, and moneylenders in the heartland are considering in the wake of the armed robbery at OT Credit on Monday.

They told The Straits Times they were on the alert following the news of two armed robberies in five months at the Jurong East moneylender's shop.

Licensed moneylending chain Lending Bee plans to increase security measures at all its four outlets by having more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras outside, encouraging the use of digital transfers, and linking up with security companies.

Its executive director, Ms Hazel Loi, said the outlets are equipped with security systems. When an outlet's glass door is broken, an alarm will go off and the security company will report the incident to the police.

Loan services company Cash Mart conducted a briefing for staff to address the seriousness of the robbery incident, particularly since a revolver was said to have been used.

Its managing director, Mr Jimmy Lee, said that CCTV cameras cover the entire sales area and the front of the Balestier shop. He added: "We do not recommend that our employees get physical with the robber. They are trained to fulfil the robber's request and call the police once the doors are locked."

The first robbery at moneylending shop OT Credit happened last November.

In that case, Kotta Kumar Jeswanth, 19, had pulled the hair of an OT Credit employee and held her at knifepoint. He and his alleged accomplices fled the scene with $48,000.

In February, Kotta was sentenced to undergo reformative training for a minimum of one year.

On Monday, Aetos officer Mahadi Muhamad Mukhtar, 38, allegedly robbed the same shop of more than $24,000 in cash while armed with a revolver.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam applauded the police for arresting the suspect within five hours.

He noted the police have installed almost 90,000 cameras islandwide. He wrote: "These help deter crime, and help the police solve crimes quickly."

ValueMax, which runs more than 40 outlets including pawnshops and moneylending and remittance services, believes it is unwise to rob any finance-related outlet in Singapore because of security features commonly found in such shops, coupled with an efficient police force.

An added security measure taken at Western Union's Clementi branch, which handles international money transfers, is pulling down the shutters when money is being counted.

Manager Bhargav Muralidharan said: "Especially now when many people are out of jobs and having difficulties, we have to be careful."

Aside from having glass panels and CCTV cameras, money changer GoldMillion Xchange in Toa Payoh has at least two employees at the unit at all times.

One of them, Madam Anisa Abdul Gaffoor, said: "We can identify suspicious characters from their body language. Those who really want to change money will not chit-chat or stand at the counter for long as they are holding money and can also be targeted."

Credit Association of Singapore president Peter Tan said that simply adding more CCTV cameras in a shop may have diminishing returns. "There can only be so many CCTV (cameras) in an office and anything more will be superfluous," he said.

He urged lenders to go cashless with their transactions through cheques.

He added: "Fortunately, these robberies are isolated incidents and we have a highly efficient police force, so the culprits are very quickly apprehended."


Past incidents

2002

Song Beng Hua was attacked by robbers at a Toa Payoh lottery outlet in August 2002. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

While preparing to open a Toa Payoh lottery outlet in August 2002, saleswoman Song Beng Hua, 36, was attacked by robbers, who fled with about $5,000.

She was found dead with her eyes taped, mouth gagged and throat slit. Her killers remain at large.


2006

Annadurai Raman (in red) was one of the men jailed for robbing the manager of a money-changing business at a carpark in November 2014. PHOTOS: ST FILE, THE NEW PAPER FILE, SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS FILE
Chan Bing Chaw snatched about $4,000 from a cashier at a lottery outlet in Sun Plaza shopping centre in February 2006. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

After snatching about $4,000 from a cashier at a lottery outlet in Sun Plaza shopping centre in February 2006, Chan Bing Chaw, 58, fired a gun at a security guard.

The bullet missed, and Chan was charged that month with shooting at the guard.

In June that year, Chan hanged himself in his cell at Queenstown Remand Prison. He could have been sentenced to death if found guilty of firing to injure the guard under the Arms Offences Act.


2014

Annadurai Raman (in red) was one of the men jailed for robbing the manager of a money-changing business at a carpark in November 2014. PHOTOS: ST FILE, THE NEW PAPER FILE, SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS FILE
Annadurai Raman (in red) was one of the men jailed for robbing the manager of a money-changing business at a carpark in November 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

At a carpark in Aljunied Crescent in November 2014, the manager of a money-changing business was ambushed by five men.

The robbers smashed the windows of his car with a crowbar before dragging him out of the vehicle. They then assaulted him.

The men, believed to be part of a nine-member crew, fled with more than $624,000.

At least six men have been jailed for roughly between six years and nine years over the incident. It was said in court that others involved in the incident remain at large.

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