OCBC staff foil money mule scam; victim was 'awkwardly silent', had answers ready

The case at OCBC is still under investigation, but preliminary findings showed the victim had been contacted by an "undercover officer" who claimed to be from Interpol.
The case at OCBC is still under investigation, but preliminary findings showed the victim had been contacted by an "undercover officer" who claimed to be from Interpol.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It was business as usual on a busy weekday morning at OCBC Bank's Paya Lebar Square branch on Aug 2.

But when a male customer in his 40s, came in to withdraw over $36,000 "in the largest possible denomination" in cash, it set off alarm bells for bank teller Victor Lo, 29.

Together with two colleagues, they managed to prevent the man from becoming a money mule in a police impersonation scam. For their efforts, the trio - including customer service manager Catherine Kueh, 54, and bank service officer Gina Chung, 54 - were awarded certificates of appreciation from the Singapore Police Force on Tuesday (Aug 29).

At the ceremony, Chiang Kiong Environmental and Keppel Seghers Engineering Singapore were also presented certificates for assisting investigations into police impersonation scams.

The case at OCBC is still under investigation, but preliminary findings showed the victim had been contacted by an "undercover officer" who claimed to be from Interpol. The "officer" had instructed the man to withdraw the money and pass it to another "officer", otherwise he would face money laundering charges, said a police spokesman.

Since March, police impersonation scams have been increasing, especially complex cases involving money transferred through multiple accounts. This particular scam is a type of China officials impersonation scam which had 501 cases last year but no cases in 2015.

The police said the $36,000 was transferred into the man's account from another female scam victim in this case.

When Mr Lo probed into the reason for the withdrawal, the man was quick to say that he borrowed the money from a friend to buy a car, but did not have any supporting documents.

"He was awkwardly silent but seemed to have all the answers ready, as if he had been coached," added Mr Lo.

He alerted his senior colleagues Ms Kueh and Ms Chung - as higher clearance is needed for large withdrawal amounts - and managed to stall the transaction for almost two hours.

"I told him to go and have lunch, and subsequently when he returned, to go have his tea break - all this to buy some time while my colleagues did their checks."

They noticed the money had been transferred into the man's account just days prior and was an unusual spike in the account balance. Added Ms Chung: "We've heard about money mule cases, and the reason he gave is also commonly used. So we suspected something might have been wrong."

Ms Kueh contacted OCBC's Fraud Risk Management team and was advised to stop the transaction and the bank made a police report.

Mr Lo, who has been with OCBC for three years, said: "I feel happy to have stopped (the scam from happening), and everyone's efforts helped to prevent this man from becoming an accessory to a crime."