Victims of 'Chinese official' scams lose $4.8m in 4 months

Screen captures of Mr Soh's mobile phone, which contained instructions from the scammer, who was impersonating a "Chinese official", on where and how to deposit the money.
Screen captures of Mr Soh's mobile phone, which contained instructions from the scammer, who was impersonating a "Chinese official", on where and how to deposit the money.PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

65 cases of scammers posing as officials from China in Jan-April

He panicked when he got a call, purportedly from Singtel, telling him his mobile account would be terminated as he had been implicated in a crime.

The 33-year-old Malaysian, who was identified only as Mr Soh, went to Liang Court to transfer $1,200 on the instructions of an "official" from China. He was about to make the transaction when two police officers at the mall noticed his frantic demeanour and approached him.

Luckily, their intervention prevented him from becoming another victim of "Chinese official" scams.

Figures released by the police yesterday showed there were 65 such cases between January and April, in which victims lost a total of at least $4.8 million.

Over the same period last year, there were 73 cases, in which victims lost about $2 million.

For this year's cases, just over $48,000 was lost in scams involving bitcoin machines, which police said are gaining traction as vehicles for fraudsters.

In these cases, scammers instruct victims to scan a QR code which links to the receiver's account, then deposit money via the machine.

 
 
 

Most of the people targeted - such as Mr Soh, whose full name was not given - were Chinese.

The scammer will tell the victims that a mobile phone number registered in their name has been involved in a crime, or that they have committed a crime and are required to help in investigations.

Inspector Chang Lian Seng, deputy in charge of Orchard Neighbourhood Police Centre's community policing unit, said: "Mr Soh was behaving in a very panicky manner. After withdrawing the money, he rushed to the bitcoin machine - that was a telltale sign."

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Soh, who was working at a wholesale company at the time of the incident, said in future, he would "first verify if such a thing actually happened".

Other victims were not as lucky.

Last year, a Chinese student in Singapore lost her entire savings of $22,500 when she gave a scammer her one-time password and access to her bank account.

In 2017, a woman lost $5.4 million after she was led to believe she had to give all her money to "Chinese officials" to assist in investigations.

Police advise the public not to panic when they receive such calls, as no government agency would request personal details or a transfer of funds by phone.

Calls that appear to be from a local number may not be from Singapore, as scammers can use caller ID spoofing technology to alter the number displayed.

To submit information about such scams, call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2019, with the headline 'Victims of 'Chinese official' scams lose $4.8m in 4 months'. Print Edition | Subscribe