Police clamping down on online scams arrested 18 Singaporeans in a two-day operation which ended yesterday.
Twelve women and six men - including students and both blue- and white-collar workers - were nabbed at their homes and workplaces. The youngest is aged just 16, while the oldest is 47.
They are believed to have been working as "money mules" for overseas syndicates running online purchase scams.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Lian Ghim Hua said yesterday that the suspects' bank accounts were used to receive payments made by victims.
Past cases have shown that this money is then remitted to Africa.
The scammers usually pose as sellers of electronic gadgets, such as smartphones, and cheat victims by failing to deliver the goods purchased.
They then ask for further payments on the pretext that delivery orders have been mixed up.
Victims typically agree to the requests for further payments but end up not receiving the items. It is believed that the scammers hire Singaporean money mules in an effort to give their scams the veneer of credibility.
DAC Lian said none of the victims had recovered their money.
Another 18 suspected money mules were arrested between January and July this year in relation to online purchase cons.
Police are trying to ascertain the roles and involvement of the suspects in the scams.
Online cheating scams are a growing area of concern for the police.
There were 504 cases recorded in the first half of this year, compared with just 96 in the same period last year.
DAC Lian said that investigations in past cases revealed that Singaporeans offer to become money mules in an attempt to "make a quick buck".
They are usually paid 10 per cent of the transacted amount.
Police records show that amounts cheated in the first half of this year ranged from $20 to $5,300. In total, $237,000 was swindled through the scams in that time.
They warned that the overseas scammers use Singapore phone numbers as a disguise when they communicate with potential victims, often through social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
One victim, who declined to be named, said he had heard stories about online scams, but let his guard down when the scammer gave him a local bank account number to make a payment transfer for his purchase.
"He also sent me photos of his Singapore identity card and that of his delivery man," said the 20-year-old full-time national serviceman.
He was swindled out of $400 for the purchase of a bicycle which was never delivered.
"He used Singlish in his chat with me, and I felt it was safe to deal with a Singaporean."
This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.