SINGAPORE - A teenager who discovered a loophole in a Grab app payment system masterminded a scam that cheated ride-hailing firm GrabTaxi Holdings of more than $26,000 through nearly 2,000 fraudulent ride bookings last year.
Ryan Wong Wei Zhi, now 20, had invited a childhood friend, Chua Wei Beng, 22, to take part in the ruse.
Chua, in turn, roped in Kenneth Ho Hong Wei, 23. All three were full-time national servicemen at the time.
By April last year, the three Singaporeans managed to recruit 14 more people into the scheme, promising them up to $400 in commissions per week.
Wong pleaded guilty in court on Tuesday (June 23) to one count of engaging in a conspiracy to cheat Grab between February and April last year.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Phoebe Leau said that Wong hatched a plan around January last year to dupe Grab into paying out monies for phantom rides on GrabHitch, a service that allows riders to book rides with private car drivers.
He had earlier realised that he could book a GrabHitch ride on a rider's account by using a debit card linked to an empty bank account.
He could then accept such a booking by using a separate driver's account, logging the pick-up and drop-off points on the app without making any trips.
The DPP said: "On that basis, Grab would be induced to pay out the earnings from the fraudulent ride to the 'driver' who accepted the booking. Grab would then charge the cost of the ride to the debit card provided by the 'rider'.
"However, Grab would receive no payment, as the bank account linked to the debit card had no funds to begin with."
In posing as both a rider and driver, Wong stood to reap the earnings of the ride and Grab "would be none the wiser", the court heard.
In February last year, Wong roped in Chua who offered his driver's account on the Grab app for use. The pair also agreed to split their profits equally.
Over the next few weeks, they met every Friday to book fraudulent GrabHitch rides.
They would book two rides per day for every day of the week except Friday by using their rider accounts.
Two additional rider accounts were also created using the pre-paid SIM cards that Chua had purchased.
Each GrabHitch driver can make up to two trips, earning a maximum of $144, a day. To increase their gains, the duo later roped in others, including Ho.
Before they were caught, Wong and Chua had 24 rider accounts and 13 driver ones on the Grab app at their disposal.
The offences came to light when a Grab operations research analyst spotted the fake transactions and alerted the police on April 17 last year.
Wong, Chua and Ho had a meeting the following month to discuss if they could execute a similar scam against ride-hailing app Gojek.
Their plot was put to an end when the police brought in the trio for questioning a few days later, DPP Leau said.
On Tuesday, the court called for reports to assess Wong's suitability for a probation and reformative training. He has not made any restitution.
Offenders given reformative training are detained at a centre where they follow a strict regimen that includes foot drills and counselling. Wong will be sentenced on June 30.
Chua and Ho's cases are pending.
For cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.