Stop Scams Podcast: Girl, 15, remorseful after cheating 5 people in gift card scam

(From left) Dr Annabelle Chow, Ms Lauren Yeo, ST journalist Jessie Lim, ST deputy news editor Andre Yeo, ST podcast producer Teo Tong Kai and JC (not his real name). ST PHOTO: ERNEST LUIS

SINGAPORE - Children can be victims of scams, but in some cases, they have perpetrated them - such as by selling items online and then deleting their accounts once payment has been made.

Recounting the case of a 15-year-old girl she counselled last year, Ms Lauren Yeo, principal counsellor of Restart Counselling for Wellness, said the teenager had taken photographs of gift cards sold at convenience stores and advertised them for sale.

Over the course of a year, the teenager managed to convince five buyers to pay for these gift cards, which she did not have and never delivered.

Said Ms Yeo: "After some time, she felt it was not right. She then went into remorse, self-blaming, and anxiety... She came to see me as she realised (cheating) was something she shouldn't be doing."

Ms Yeo was speaking to The Straits Times on the third episode of the Stop Scams podcast, which will be broadcast on Wednesday (April 13).

The Stop Scams podcast is a new series by The Straits Times to raise greater public awareness of the modern scourge of scams in Singapore and globally.

Ms Yeo was joined by Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, and JC (not his real name), 20, who fell victim to a love and gaming scam in March 2021.

JC, a graphic design student waiting to enlist in national service, was persuaded by a young woman on dating app Tinder to download a mobile gaming application so they could spend quality time gaming together.

To please her, he transferred to her $2,100 worth of in-game items, including 999 stalks of virtual roses, via PayPal.

Although she had promised to meet him after he made the transfers, she did not turn up and blocked him on WeChat, the messaging platform they had been using to communicate.

JC said: "I realised she would not give me back my money... I kept calling her throughout the weekend and she told me she was (visiting a friend) in hospital - but it turns out that the hospital was not even open (for visitors)."

Although his immediate response was grief, JC was able to recover from the incident after he considered ways to earn back the money he lost.

Grief, as well as shame and guilt, are the most common symptoms scam victims experience, said Dr Annabelle Chow. Scam victims can also be depressed if they constantly ruminate on what has happened.

Dr Chow said: "Depression will affect other areas of their life. They cannot focus, their appetite and sleep get affected. They will have thoughts of suicide - that if they are not around they won't have to deal with the consequences of how work and relationships are falling apart."

During the episode, Ms Yeo and Dr Chow also discussed how scams affect children differently from adults. A warning sign that children might have fallen victim to scams could be their refusal to go to school or their loss of focus during lessons.

The counsellors also advised parents on how to talk to their children about the dangers of online scams and what to do if their children tell them they have been scammed.

JC will also be sharing his takeaways from the scam he fell prey to and how it was a wake-up call for him to make decisions based on logic instead of emotions.

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