OCBC duo commended for foiling Internet love scam

Quick wit saved victim from losing $2.5k to Facebook 'friend': Police

It was an ordinary work day for OCBC bank teller Yao Liang Bing until a 43-year-old woman walked into the Serangoon Garden branch on Monday morning.

The woman, known only as Madam Ng, had asked to remit $2,500 to another OCBC bank account as a Customs clearance fee for a $20,000 parcel stuck at Malaysian Customs.

A red flag for Ms Yao: Why would a government agency request that funds be transferred to a personal bank account?

"Usually government transactions are not related to a personal account. There is an official channel to do it," she said. "The customer had her suspicions too. She was just not convinced, not sure, that this was a scam."

When probed, Madam Ng said she was instructed to do so by someone named Owen Park, whom she said is a Britain-based Korean in his late 30s. She had befriended him on Facebook about a week ago and he sent her long messages, said Madam Ng, a business owner who is married with four children.

She was told the parcel - a "gift" from Park after he closed a big business deal - included a MacBook and PlayStation 4 for her kids.

Ms Yao, 26, alerted customer service manager June Seah, 38, who also believed it to be a scam. They advised Madam Ng to lodge a police report, which she did.

Their quick wit foiled what was later discovered to be an Internet love scam.

For their vigilance, Ms Yao and Ms Seah were presented with certificates of appreciation at the Police Cantonment Complex yesterday.

"As the first point of contact with the victim, Ms Yao and Ms Seah have successfully saved her from not just losing the initial $2,500, but future financial loss and distress if the scam had continued," said director of the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department David Chew.

Madam Ng told The Straits Times she had assumed Park was a friend of her husband. "It's very common for his friends to add me (on Facebook)," she said. Her husband found out about the incident only after the police report was made.

Madam Ng had received phone calls on Monday from two people claiming to be a courier agent and a Customs officer, who kept egging her on to complete the money transfer.

Said Ms Seah: "Scammers will make you feel anxious to do the transfer. They won't give you the opportunity to talk to anybody."

There has been a rise in the number of Internet love scams. Last year saw the number spike 29.9 per cent to 825 reported cases, up from 635 in 2016. The total amount lost rose to $37 million last year, from $24 million the year before.

Singapore police are working closely with Malaysian police to tackle syndicates based there. Between February last year and January this year, three joint operations led to the arrest of 52 people in both nations for their involvement in at least 150 Internet love scam cases.

The police have also tapped social media to disseminate advisories here. One such advisory last month read: "Close to $37 million was lost to Internet love scams in 2017. That's worth 1.85 million bottles of love letters."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'OCBC duo commended for foiling Internet love scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe