Victims duped online and through WhatsApp

Mandy was tricked into borrowing from a loan shark who passed himself off as an licensed moneylender.
Mandy was tricked into borrowing from a loan shark who passed himself off as an licensed moneylender. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

She needed money to pay the bills, and took a loan from a man who claimed to be a licensed moneylender.

But when Mandy (not her real name) could not make the first payment a week later and the $250 loan skyrocketed to $400, she knew something was wrong.

"I asked him (before borrowing the money) if he was a licensed moneylender, and he said he was. But when I couldn't pay up the first week, he started calling and messaging, shouting vulgarities."

Mandy, 26, said she got to know the man, Michael, last month after contacting some licensed moneylenders online. He called her and claimed to be from one of them.

The agreement was she would pay him $300 at the end of the month for a $250 loan.

Within an hour of sending him her documents, such as her pay slip, work address and even a photo of herself with her flat number in view, the money was in her account. "It was my first time borrowing from a moneylender, so I thought online transactions were normal and I didn't think too much about giving him a picture of myself."

When she contacted the company that Michael claimed to be from, she was told there was no employee by that name and it had not loaned her money.

"My heart dropped," said the Malaysian who works as a housekeeper here. She is the sole breadwinner of her family and earns about $1,500 monthly.

She has made a police report, but for the past month, the loan shark has continued harassing her, her colleagues and even her family in Malaysia.

She has paid close to $600, but was told it has not covered the principle sum. "It's driving me mad. In the days after, I couldn't stop crying and even had suicidal thoughts," she added.

Mandy isn't the only one who was "tricked" into borrowing from a loan shark. Jane (not her real name) was similarly duped into taking a $1,000 loan from an unlicensed moneylender.

In February, she got a WhatsApp message offering her a loan with a link to a website.

"I visited the website, and it looked so real and official, so I didn't think much of it. All they needed was my Singpass and NRIC, so I thought, why not?"

Jane, 24, took the loan to pay her gambling debts, but realised it had come from a loan shark when she failed to make the first payment and the harassment started.

Since then, her debt has ballooned to at least $2,600 and she has managed to pay off only $750. She is a part-time service crew member and earns about $1,300 monthly. "I regret not checking (the company) thoroughly. Now I live in fear as I don't know when (the loan sharks) might appear.

She advised borrowers to go to licensed lenders. "But more importantly," she said, "check that the company is licensed, and remember that licensed moneylenders will make contracts only in person."

Tan Tam Mei

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline Victims duped online and through WhatsApp. Subscribe