Retired reporter scammed out of $3 million, forced to sell properties to pay loan sharks

The scammers got a "police officer" to hand Madam Poon Sing Wah documentation (above) of her “crimes”. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Scammed out of $3 million, a woman in Singapore had to sell two of her properties to pay off her ensuing debts with loan sharks. 

Speaking to Lianhe Zaobao, retiree Poon Sing Wah, 74, said she was cheated of her hard-earned money in 2019 by people claiming to be Chinese officials.

Madam Poon, who is a former Zaobao reporter, said she received a call from a man posing as an employee from courier company DHL. He claimed Madam Poon had sent several forged passports to Beijing that were detained at Customs.

Later, a man who claimed to be an Interpol officer in China told Madam Poon she was being investigated for masterminding a money laundering scheme. As a result, the money in her bank account in China would be frozen for two years, he said.

Madam Poon was born in Shanghai and still maintained a bank account there.

Preying on her distress, the scammer offered to help her. They even got a female “police officer” to hand her documentation of her “crimes” as proof.

“Both times, the person would meet me at the carpark (at her condo in Singapore),” said Madam Poon, who was told repeatedly that the police were secretly helping her and that she must not tell anyone about the ongoing “investigation”.

She heeded every instruction from the scammers. These included logging on to a website “operated by Chinese police”, and more crucially, pressing the “OK” button on her bank’s digital token every three seconds to “verify her fingerprints”.

She later realised that each time she pressed the button, thousands of dollars were syphoned out of her account.

“I lost 50,000 yuan (S$9,840) every three seconds,” she said.

Madam Poon logged in to her China Zheshang Bank account a total of 266 times in 20 days, with the outflow of bank transfers amounting to a whopping 14.86 million yuan.

“That was the equivalent of $3.03 million then,” said Madam Poon, who was unaware her life savings were being emptied during those 20 days.

In addition to her savings, the scammers also instructed her to remit more money from Singapore to her Chinese bank account for various purposes – from needing to prove her financial strength to the Chinese authorities to paying for the burial fees of a victim who purportedly died because of her.

To raise the additional funds, Madam Poon borrowed money from friends and loan sharks.

She suspected it was a scam only when a friend raised doubts about the “investigation”.

By then, it was too late.

When she realised she could not log in to her China Zheshang Bank account, she called the bank and was told she had just 0.76 yuan left in it.

She flew to Shanghai and made a police report, but was told by the police there that it was out of their jurisdiction as the crime did not happen in China.

To clear her loan shark debt, Madam Poon was forced to sell two of her properties.

She told Zaobao she lost 10kg from the incident and had even thought of ending her life.

“Although I wouldn’t have to care about anything if my life ended, what about others whom I owed money to?”

She decided to share her experience to serve as a warning to others. “I would like to use this unfortunate incident to raise public awareness,” she said.

Madam Poon said she took legal action against China Zheshang Bank for its alleged lapses in security, but the court did not rule in her favour.

What did give her some comfort, though, was that her children did not get upset after finding out about the scam.

“I apologised and told them I was very sorry, as that sum of money was meant to have been theirs.”

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