UOB staff stop elderly man from losing $150,000 to 'girlfriend from Netherlands' in love scam

UOB service associate Jenny Hong (right) and assistant branch manager Alison Cheng stopped an account holder from losing $150,000. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - When a flustered man walked into UOB Bank's main branch trying to bank in a cheque of more than $150,000 to an offshore account, service associate Jenny Hong got suspicious.

The first telltale sign was the name of the account holder and the account number did not match, she said.

When Ms Hong, 46, probed the man, in his 70s, further and asked why he needed to send money to the overseas account, he grew more rattled.

The incident happened earlier this year at the bank's main branch in Raffles Place.

Ms Hong said: "It was odd because he was trying to bank in such a large amount of money into an account that was not his. He kept saying it was very urgent and when I asked him more about it, his answers grew more and more incoherent."

Sensing something amiss, Ms Hong, who has worked at UOB for 27 years, flagged the incident to the bank's assistant branch manager Alison Cheng.

They then realised the man was being scammed.

Ms Cheng, 55, said: "He said the money was for his girlfriend in The Netherlands.

"He told me he had just met her on Facebook and knew her for two months. She insisted she needed his money to complete a business deal and get commission from it."

At that point, Ms Cheng's aim was to convince the man he was being scammed and persuade him to halt the transfer.

"I asked if he had seen scam articles in the news. He said yes, but insisted he was not being scammed.

"He said it was love and his girlfriend needed the money urgently," recounted Ms Cheng.

She spent the next half an hour convincing him about scams and it was only then did he understand he had almost become a victim of an Internet love scam.

Ms Cheng added: "The man was suddenly resolute and told us not to carry out the transaction."

He also made a police report.

According to the mid-year crime statistics released by the police last month, more than $20 million was lost to Internet love scams in the first six months of the year.

There were 477 cases in the first half of 2022, a dip from the 546 cases during the same period last year.

Mr Richard Soh, group head of integrated fraud management at UOB, said staff at bank branches are trained to spot telltale signs of suspicious transactions and take appropriate actions to handle them.

"These include dissuading customers from sanctioning questionable transactions and assisting them to report scams to the police," he said.

National University of Singapore business professor Lawrence Loh said it is assuring the preventive measures against scams are not just a part of an abstract policy, but have been internalised in financial institutions here.

More of such interventions will sustain the confidence level of overseas investors in our financial hub, he noted.

Prof Loh, whose expertise is on strategy and policy, added: "Every scam case can add up to the small hit that scams as a whole may have on Singapore's reputation as a financial hub.

"So, if we can eradicate whatever impact scams have on our reputation, no matter how little, we're moving in the right direction."

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