Widow left with $99 after life savings of $55,000 wiped out in Viber scam; police investigating

The woman had provided the caller, who claimed to be from DBS Bank, with her bank card number and iBanking PIN. PHOTOS: LABINA FARIAH/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE (STOMP) - The police are investigating an incident in which a 60-year-old woman had her life savings of $55,000 wiped out from her bank account after falling victim to a scam that was carried out through messaging platform Viber.

In a post on Tuesday (Jan 14), Facebook user Labina Fariah outlined how her mother, who is a widow, was duped by the scammer.

Calling for netizens not to judge her mother, Ms Labina said she decided to share details of the incident to warn others so they would not have to go through the same ordeal.

She wrote: "This should be a warning to all of us who have parents, no matter how educated they might be, they can be lost in their own space too."

According to Ms Labina, someone had called her mother on Viber and claimed to be from DBS Bank on Monday afternoon.

The caller told her mother that "he was going to check on her account as he noticed that the account was being hacked".

Despite having some doubts and asking why the call was made via Viber instead of a local number, Ms Labina's mother "fell for his words" and provided the caller with her bank card number and iBanking PIN.

"My mother's entire life saving were wiped out just with one single OTP (one-time password) and she was only left with $99," wrote Ms Labina.

Her mother sensed that something was amiss when she received an e-mail notifying her about a transfer of $17,999.05.

Panic-stricken, she called Ms Labina, who told her to go update her bank book.

The scammer was still on the phone at that point in time.

"After wiping out $54,999.06 from a widow, he still wanted more," Ms Labina said.

"That was when I realised (my mother) was just left with $99. She broke down and I am not sure how to make things right for her."

A police report was made on the same day.

The police confirmed with Stomp that a report was lodged and investigations are being carried out.

Ms Labina said that when her mother broke down, it "felt as if I was punched in my gut".

"To many of us, the amount is small but my friends, that was my mother's life savings. It was all taken away from her within 30 minutes," she said.

"I wish I were a better daughter who could walk up to her and tell her, screw it, I will just give it to you. I feel rotten."

Ms Labina questioned how the huge transaction was allowed to go through despite its dubious nature. She also sought advice about blocking such transactions and retrieving the money.

When contacted about the case by Stomp, DBS Bank said it wanted to remind customers to always be vigilant and never give out their personal security information, enter sensitive information into unknown websites, click on URL links originating from unknown sources, or reply to unsolicited SMSes, e-mails or calls.

"Please note that DBS/POSB will never request for our customers to download software, disclose their Internet Banking access credentials (such as username or password, OTP, Digital Token approval), or to conduct any fund transfers over the phone," the bank said.

Customers can contact the bank on its 24-hour hotline on 1800-111-1111 if they notice suspicious or unusual activity in their accounts.

"Scammers are actively targeting bank customers in Singapore via automated calls, voice calls and SMSes, phishing for bank account and personal information that could lead to loss of money," said DBS Bank.

"To raise awareness, DBS has created a short video clip detailing the recent scam tactics and what customers should be aware of."

Ms Labina told Stomp that she was in the process of speaking with DBS Bank about the matter.

She added: "My mother's experience should be a learning point for so many vulnerable people."

In an advisory on Tuesday, the police warned members of the public about similar scams that targeted bank customers.

Besides the aforementioned Viber scam, other variants of the scam had victims getting calls with an automated voice message purportedly from the bank, informing that their bank account had been locked or would be cancelled.

Victims were then asked to press a number and the call would be transferred to someone claiming to be a staff member from the bank.

Another variant of the scam involved victims receiving an SMS message purportedly from the bank, informing them that their ATM card had been blocked or deactivated.

The victims were directed to call a specified number to reactivate their ATM card.

The police said that they have received at least 60 reports of such scams since January 2019, with total losses amounting to at least $1.6 million.

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