Observant bank staff among 120 lauded by police for preventing $14m in scam losses

The award recipients include (from left) Mr Au Him Leong of Card Security Group of Singapore, Mr Elvin Lim of DBS, Ms Sara Lee of Jurong Point OCBC branch, Mr Leong Wen Xian of Jurong Point OCBC branch, Mr Joshua Wee of Hougang MRT Station UOB branch and Mr Christopher Ong of DHL Express Singapore. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - When a housewife in her 50s demanded to close insurance policies worth some $200,000 in October last year, OCBC Bank staff who attended to her suspected that she was involved in a scam.

This is because it did not make financial sense to prematurely dissolve the insurance policies, said Jurong Point OCBC branch manager Leong Wen Xian, 34, who investigated the claim.

The woman's bank transactions revealed that she had already transferred up to $40,000 of her life savings to suspicious overseas accounts. She later revealed that the accounts belonged to users who claimed to be "officials from China".

They told her she was being probed for spreading fake claims about Covid-19 and warned her not to tell anyone about the investigation. She was ordered to hand over her banking and personal details, Mr Leong recalled.

He said: "The woman was in disbelief when she found out that this was a lie. She tried to hide (her situation) from the bank staff and spoke so confidently about making this transaction, unlike normal scam victims who show up looking nervous.

"Our customers are often normal people who have worked many years to save for their livelihoods. This would have been a huge loss."

Mr Leong and his colleague, Ms Sara Lee, who was also involved in this case, were among 120 individuals and companies awarded by the police for thwarting scams.

The Community Partnership Award (CPA) ceremony was held at the police headquarters at New Phoenix Park on Thursday (April 7).

Some of the awardees had collectively prevented $14 million from being lost to scams in more than 40 cases between 2021 and February this year, while others played a part by running campaigns to educate the public on the latest scam trends.

Separately, DBS Bank was given an award for working with the police to freeze 5,300 bank accounts linked to scams and recover around $35 million of scam money last year. 

It is understood that most of the cases were linked to investment, loan and job scams and that the money will be returned to victims after investigations are complete.

Mr Elvin Lim, DBS' group head of investigations, said the bank will deploy more staff to the Anti-Scam Centre at the Police Cantonment Complex by June to aid with scam investigations under a partnership that began 2019.

It is understood that other banks will soon follow to deploy officers permanently at the centre to speed up investigations into fraud.

The amount recovered by DBS is roughly a third of the $103 million of scam money recovered in 2021, the police said.

The police added that they recovered $31.5 million of swindled money in January and February this year.

Jurong Point branch manager Leong Wen Xian (left) and his colleague Sara Lee were awarded by the police. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

During the ceremony, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan, who presented the awards, announced new guidelines on online safety, which can be downloaded from the Asia Internet Coalition website.

The guidelines aim to arm businesses and users with frameworks to prevent scams and provide the public with an overview of scam trends.

Victims lost more than $600 million last year in some 24,000 reported scam cases, said Mr Tan in his address.

He said Singapore is an attractive target for online scammers due to its high Internet connectivity and added that the best defence against fraud is a discerning public.

He cited how Hougang MRT Station UOB branch manager Joshua Wee, who also won the CPA, stopped a 77-year-old customer from transferring some $80,000 to scammers in February.

Mr Wee shared in an interview with the media that the man, who is married, fell in love with a fraudster with whom he communicated through text frequently for six months.

Although they had never met in person, the man agreed to transfer US$60,000 (S$81,600) to a purported logistics company when the woman asked him for help to get a precious parcel that she claimed was stuck in transit released, Mr Wee, 55, recounted.

He said: "The man is very articulate and looked like he knew what he was doing, but thankfully he was stopped."

Mr Wee, a branch manager for seven years, added: "The woman had built trust with this man over half a year and preyed on his emotions. The scammers are patient enough to build this friendship with the man - that is how scary scams are."

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