On Assignment
Scam Me, Scam Me Not
It can happen to anyone, a mom with kids or a General Manager of a Multinational Corporation. Why Internet love scams and e-mail impersonation scams are a key area of concern for the Police.

What started as an innocent “friend” request on social media turned out to be a traumatic experience for Ms Tan, a mother of two children.

In late January 2018, Ms Tan received a “friend” request from a man who claimed to be based in the United States (US). Going through his social media profile, she felt that someone “who looked like a businessman” was safe for her to connect with online. “He didn’t look like the type who would scam people,” said the 40-year-old.

As her newfound “friend” was willing to share nuggets of information about himself such as his age and job, Ms Tan felt comfortable with the gradual build-up of their friendship, and also shared information about herself.

A One-off Gift

Internet love scam graphic
GRAPHIC: Jamie Ang

It began when the man wanted to mail her a parcel of gifts, on the pretext that he had a good day at work and wanted to share his joy by buying her presents. When this advance was rejected, the man started to emotionally blackmail Ms Tan by goading her to block him on social media, citing her rejection of the gifts as the end of their friendship. Not wanting to lose her online “friend”, she gave in and disclosed her personal details after he promised it would be a one-off gift.

Not long after, the man professed his love to Ms Tan but shared that he had to travel for several months and may be uncontactable. Before he “left” on his travels, he sent Ms Tan an urgent message about the likelihood that she might need to cover the upfront taxes for the parcel. He asserted that this was due to the nature of the gifts, claiming to have sent her expensive items including a laptop, smartphones, branded goods and even a gold bar.

Ms Tan was pressured into transferring about $3,000 to a supposed courier deliveryman and contact of the US-based “friend,” to facilitate the delivery of the parcel. The money was quickly transferred out from the receiving account to a Malaysian bank account. It was only when the courier deliveryman requested an additional $12,500 and sent multiple threats to Ms Tan that she felt something was amiss and reported her case to the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Ms Tan may not be able to recover her $3,000 from this Internet love scam. While it was an expensive lesson, she shared that she was only willing to come forward with her story so that others don’t fall for the same trick. She’s also more careful now in her online correspondences, and reminds those around her to be vigilant as well.

MNCs are Targeted Too

But it isn’t only individuals that fall prey to scams. MNCs can also become victims, at a much higher cost. An MNC which has been operating in Singapore for the past 25 years fell prey to an e-mail impersonation scam in 2015, one which resulted in them trying to recover 119,000 Euros across international borders.

It was an ordinary work-day in March 2015 when the General Manager (GM) of the MNC received an order for industrial machines made in Europe. Contacting their usual supplier, he proceeded with negotiations for this particular order. Little did he know that his e-mail correspondence with the supplier was being monitored by a scammer.

Scam graphic 2
GRAPHIC: Jamie Ang

The scammer, observing the negotiations quietly, waited until the end of the dealings and ensured that the supplier was away from the office before striking. Posing as the supplier, with a slightly altered e-mail domain that was overlooked by the MNC’s GM, the scammer requested for payment to be made to a “subsidiary bank account of the supplier” based in Poland. The GM unwittingly proceeded with the 119,000 Euro payment.

He only realised something was amiss when the real supplier insisted he had yet to receive payment for their deal. By the time the MNC contacted its bank to hold the remittance, it was already too late. The money had already been transferred elsewhere. A Police report was lodged the following day, setting off the MNC’s long-drawn journey in recovering its money from Poland.

According to the SPF, e-mail impersonation scams are at their highest level in three years, with the number of cases rising from 257 from 2016 to 328 in 2017, and at least $43 million lost. Internet love scams also remain an area of concern in 2017, with victims losing $37 million (and the largest amount cheated in a single case close to $6 million).

Visit the National Crime Prevention Council’s Scam Alert! website to learn more about crime prevention measures against scams. Be vigilant against such crimes, and share your knowledge with others.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Yuslina Aziz
  2. 13 February 2018
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