SINGAPORE - Enticed by a monthly salary of $2,700, a Taiwanese man came to Singapore to work as a runner for a crime syndicate which cheated seven victims out of nearly $1 million in a police impersonation scam.
The victims include an 82-year-old Singaporean man who lost $650,000 after being conned into handing over his bank details.
On Monday (June 4), Huang Ying-Chun, 53, was sentenced to 6½ years' jail for his role in the operation.
Huang was recruited last June by a man known only as Ah Fei. He was told to go to Singapore and collect and hand over "documents" as instructed.
He arrived on June 21 of last year with co-accused Chen Peng-Yu, 34. But the next day, he realised that the documents were actually bundles of cash - namely $50,000 from a man who had fallen victim to a phone call asking him to give his bank account details to the police.
Although Huang had reason to suspect that he was involved in a crime, he continued to work as a runner for the syndicate, the court heard.
This modus operandi was repeated as the syndicate targeted another six victims - including 82-year-old Tan Kok Phuang, who was cheated on nine occasions over nine consecutive days. Most of the $650,000 he lost was handed over in batches of $75,000.
In all the cases, the victims had their money transferred to unrelated third parties, who were then instructed by syndicate operatives pretending to be police, to withdraw the cash and hand it to Huang and his co-accused.
Of the $957,000 collected by the syndicate, only $1,050 has been recovered.
Huang and five others - mostly suspected runners - have been arrested, though court documents did not reveal how. Huang, who was arrested last July, is the first to be dealt with in the case.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Ti-Ting said Huang was motivated by greed as he was in financial difficulties. She added that most of the victims, who were aged 50 to 82, were elderly. She also said that the sole purpose of Huang's stay in Singapore was for criminal purposes.
She pointed out that in 2016, there were reportedly 487 police impersonation scams which cheated victims out of a total of S$23 million and that it is "notoriously difficult" to investigate international syndicates.
In mitigation, Huang told the court in Mandarin that he has two elderly parents and that his mother has been suffering from depression. He also said through an interpreter: "I'm very remorseful, please give me one last chance to turn over a new leaf."
District Judge Ng Peng Hong said that he had to "send a strong signal" to foreigners that Singapore "is not a place you can commit offences and get away with it lightly".
For dealing with the benefits of criminal conduct, Huang could have faced up to 10 years in jail, with a fine of up to $500,000.