SINGAPORE - Two Taiwanese men were jailed on Tuesday (Sept 4) for their role in police impersonation scams here, in which their victims were conned into handing over up to $185,000 in the belief that they were involved in money laundering cases and other serious offences.
The oldest victim was 83 years old when the offences were committed last year and the youngest, 51.
For their roles, Hsieh Teng-Chia, 31, was jailed two years and nine months, while 34-year-old Chen You-Jeng was jailed three years. The men had each pleaded guilty last month to one count of dealing with the benefits of criminal activities.
Two of their fellow Taiwanese syndicate members have also been apprehended. Huang Ying-Chun, 53, has been dealt with in court, while the case involving Chen Peng-Yu, 35, is still pending.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Ryan Lim told the court that between June 15 and July 6 last year, the victims received phone calls from people claiming to be police officers in China or Singapore.
"These callers convinced the victims and other involved parties that they were involved in money laundering cases, or in some other serious offences, which were being investigated in China," he said.
The victims were told that their bank accounts were implicated, and they had to cooperate with the callers' instructions. They were then cheated into providing their bank account details, which the scammers used to withdraw money without their knowledge.
There were also other parties who were pressured into acting as mules, withdrawing money that was transferred into their accounts, and handing the cash over to the Taiwanese men in Singapore.
Hsieh's role in the scams started in early 2017 after he met Chen You-Jeng and told him over drinks that he was short on cash. Chen You-Jeng then recruited him into the syndicate's operations, promising him about NTD$75,000 (S$3,300) for a month's work.
The duo arrived in Singapore on July 5 last year and received instructions through messaging app Telegram.
That very day, $10,000 was transferred out of a victim's bank account into one of the mules' accounts. The mule was instructed to withdraw it and hand it over to Huang at Geylang Lorong 17.
Huang collected the money, and then left it in the toilet at a Geylang Lorong 12 eatery.
From there, Hsieh collected the money and left it at another toilet in a coffee shop in Geylang Lorong 10. Chen Peng-Yu allegedly later collected the cash, the court heard.
A similar method was used in three other incidents in other locations over the next two days. The total sum involved in the four incidents came up to $185,000. On July 7, Chen Peng-Yu and Chen You-Jeng checked into Marina Bay Sands. There, Chen Peng-Yu consolidated the money they had taken before handing it over to another member of the syndicate.
No restitution has been made.
In sentencing, District Judge Salina Ishak said the Taiwanese duo knowingly came to Singapore with the intention to commit the crime. She also noted the increasing prevalence of such police impersonation scams.
According to the police mid-year crime statistics released in August, cases involving scammers claiming to be officials from China jumped more than 200 per cent, from 58 cases in the first six months of 2017 to 182 cases in the same period this year.