Stop Scams podcast: How OCBC staff stopped woman from losing $200,000 to scammers

This episode of the Stop Scams podcast features (from left) ST journalist Osmond Chia, deputy news editor Andre Yeo, podcast producer Teo Tong Kai and OCBC branch manager Leong Wen Xian. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - When a woman walked into the OCBC Bank branch at Jurong Point and demanded to close insurance policies worth $200,000, bank employees who spoke to her in October last year felt something was fishy.

At first, the housewife in her 40s to 50s said she needed the money for renovation work at home, but could not justify why she needed to relinquish policies worth far more.

Suspicious, OCBC staff investigated her transactions and learnt she had already transferred up to $40,000 of her life savings to suspicious overseas accounts, said branch manager Leong Wen Xian, who handled the case.

The customer later revealed that the accounts belonged to "officials from China" who claimed that she was under probe for spreading fake news about Covid-19. They warned her not to tell anyone about the investigations.

The OCBC team spoke to her for 40 minutes before she finally accepted that she had been conned, and she made a police report.

Mr Leong, 34, said: "The customer could not give an exact figure on how much she needed. That was a red flag we had observed."

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the fourth episode of the Stop Scams podcast, which will be broadcast on Wednesday (May 4).

In the 20-minute episode, Mr Leong breaks down the tell-tale signs of victims strung along by swindlers and the twisted methods used by fraudsters.

The Stop Scams podcast is a series by ST to raise greater public awareness of the modern scourge of scams. In Singapore, more than $1 billion has been lost by scam victims here since 2016.

The rise in scams has led to a crackdown on fraudsters by the police and businesses alike.

In February, OCBC rolled out a kill switch that enables customers to immediately freeze all their bank accounts in an emergency, preventing any transaction.

It is one of several measures introduced by the bank that Mr Leong discusses in the podcast, in the light of a spate of phishing scams between December last year and January this year, when 790 of OCBC's customers lost $13.7 million.

As an industry measure, those who enable their mobile phones for online banking will have to wait through a 12-hour cooling period before they can use the app.

Mr Leong said: "There were definitely some customers who were unhappy about the delays, but it is necessary as it is a way to safeguard their money."

He added: "If they find something is amiss, they can use these 12 hours to make a report."

Mr Leong emphasised that public awareness about scams was still the first line of defence.

He will also provide tips on how to bank online safely, including to refrain from banking while tired.

He said: "Our customers work very hard for their money; it is definitely not worthwhile to lose it in the moment. That is why we make sure our customers are well aware of the different tactics scammers may use on them."

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