SINGAPORE - A 32-year-old teacher in Singapore had hoped to earn some extra money from a part-time job to support her family, but she ended up nearly $4,000 poorer.
Beatrice (not her real name) decided to take on the role of an "online assistant" that came with an attractive monthly salary of $8,000 after seeing multiple ads for the job on social media platforms.
The task was simple. She had to make purchases for products on e-commerce site Shopee to boost sales and was promised that she would get her money back plus a small commission after an item was purchased.
Instead of paying through the Shopee platform, however, she was instructed to transfer the money to a bank account number provided by the scammers.
Beatrice was doubtful at first. "I found it weird that the job was advertised on social media and with such a high salary," she said.
But she was quickly convinced by the scammers that they were part of a marketing team in Shopee that sought to boost the profiles of merchants by increasing their customer base.
"It seemed legitimate because there were over 100 people in the WhatsApp group chat and they even gave me an employee ID number," said Beatrice, who is married with a son.
On Sept 18, she made a $45 profit from two assignments that involved transferring $130 and $320 of her own money.
As she grew more confident, she followed instructions to transfer a larger sum of $1,900.
The swindlers then claimed that she had to complete additional parts of the assignment, and they could not pay her back unless she transferred another $1,900.
Afraid of losing her money, Beatrice did as she was told. But the scammers were unrelenting and told her to transfer over $8,000 to "complete the task".
"When I told them I didn't have enough money, they had the audacity to tell me to borrow from friends or neighbours," she said.
It was then that Beatrice realised she had been cheated, and she made a police report that night. She has yet to recover her loss.
The police said in a statement on Wednesday (Oct 13) that they had arrested 19 suspects - 16 men and three women - for their involvement in a variation of such a job scam during a two-day enforcement operation earlier this week.
Aged between 18 and 35, the suspects are believed to have opened or rented out bank accounts to scammers, recruited victims and fraudulently registered mobile phone lines.
Investigations are ongoing.
In these cases, victims were promised quick returns for completing simple tasks like following social media accounts and liking posts to boost viewership.
But it came with a catch. Before they could do the tasks, victims had to pay for a "member package" that costs between $10 and a few thousand dollars.
They paid for it via cryptocurrency or bank transfer to unknown individuals.
The police said: "In most cases, the victims were convinced that it was a legitimate job, as they received commissions in the early stages of getting their memberships.
"They realised that they had been scammed when they did not receive further commissions or were unable to make withdrawals from their member accounts."
The police did not reveal in the statement how many victims had been cheated by the fraudsters or the total amount lost.
A total of $6.5 million was lost to job scams in the first half of this year, a vast leap from $60,000 in the same period last year.
The police advised the public not to accept dubious job offers that promise lucrative returns for minimal effort.
"Legitimate businesses will not require job seekers to use their own bank accounts to receive money on behalf of businesses or make payments to secure the job and earn commissions," they added.