Techie hooked by online crook

Techie hooked by online crook

He is a senior IT project manager in a major bank and if he wanted to, the self-proclaimed "techie" would know how to hide his identity online.

Despite his experience, Keith (not his real name) fell prey to an online scammer three weeks ago.

He was cheated of about $1,300 after he agreed to buy two mobile phones that were advertised online. Each was more than $100 cheaper than usual.

After Keith, 30, transferred the money, he did not receive the merchandise and the seller could no longer be contacted.

"I should have known better. The Internet is a dangerous place and you really don't know who is on the other end," he said.

"Given my experience, it is ironic that I was conned. I had done a lot of online shopping before so I never thought it would happen to me."

Online commercial cheating crimes have seen a startling increase this year, with 504 cases from January to June compared to 96 in the same period last year.

Keith had seen an online classified advertisement offering HTC One M8 smartphones at $720 each. He was helping a friend in Indonesia look for phones and the low prices drew him in.

"I did wonder why the price was around $100 less than in the shops, but I thought he must have imported them from China or something," he said.

He followed the link on the advertisement to a website that was created by the perpetrator.

"It looked legitimate, but it could have been one of those temporary sites registered under free domain names. I only realised that later," Keith said.


He did not suspect anything when he saw an offer of further discounts for the purchase of more than one phone.

Tempted by the bargain prices, he responded to a local mobile phone number listed on the advertisement via WhatsApp, a text messaging application, indicating his interest to buy two phones.

Keith immediately got a response, telling him to transfer the money to a Singaporean bank account.

After that, all he needed to do was to show proof of payment and the phones would be sent to him, the scammer said.

To lend more credence, the scammer sent Keith purported photos of himself, his NRIC and the phones.

"He communicated only through text messages and said he couldn't talk on the phone as he is deaf. I wanted to meet him, but he gave many excuses to say he couldn't," Keith said.

"He told me not to worry because if the sale went awry, I could go to the police with his details."

So Keith transferred $1,300 to the bank account. The scammer called Keith over the phone for the first time to ask if he made payment.

"He had a strong foreign accent. When I told him I had transferred the money, he ended the call. After that, I could not contact him again," said Keith.

But when he used two of his friends' phones to contact the scammer, the latter responded, likely thinking they were new buyers. By then, Keith realised he'd been duped and made a police report a day later.

A police spokesman said that investigations are ongoing.

To Keith, his money is as good as gone. He said: "I don't hope to get the money back now, but I wish my experience will teach others not to fall for scammers."

The Internet is a dangerous place and you really don't know who is on the other end.

Scammers kept changing tactics

While online classified scams are not new, the scammers are always evolving their methods to avert the suspicions of their potential victims.

Superintendent Chew Jingwei, who heads the Commercial Affairs Department's syndicated fraud branch, said: "In the past, if a scammer were to post an advertisement online and tell you to remit the money to, say, Nigeria, you would be more careful.

"But nowadays, because there's a Singaporean bank account, you will tend to let your guard down."

The local bank accounts might be owned by money mules here, who might not even know they are part of a criminal operation.

'Buyers beware'

Mr Terence Seah, a lawyer specialising in commercial crime and regulatory offences, said it is "buyers beware" when responding to offers in online classifieds.

"The general advice would be to check the reputation of the actual seller and not rely on the website to do it for you," he said.

The lawyer from Shook Lin & Bok LLP said those who fall victim to online scams always seem to be "more susceptible to being cheated".

"The scammers cast their net wide. While 99 out of 100 people might shun them, thinking that it's an obvious scam, all they are aiming for is that one gullible person."

His advice: Insist on meeting the seller, check his or her track record on the website and never assume the seller is legitimate.

This article was published on Aug 19 in The New Paper.

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