1 girl, 1 blogshop, 100 scam victims

At just 16, she set up a blogshop on social networking site Facebook to sell items such as shoes, cameras and fashion accessories.

But Hock Jing Er did not have the goods, nor did she have the intention to make any transactions.

Her blogshop was a scam, which she used to cheat 100 customers out of $10,827 in total. Her victims are understood to be students with an average age of 15.

On Friday, the now 17-year- old was sentenced to 36 months of probation and ordered to perform 240 hours of community service by a district judge.

An Institute of Technical Education student, she lives with her father and younger brother in a rented flat. Her mother, a Thai national, returned home after her divorce from her husband last year.

Jing Er carried out the scam in May and June last year, using pictures of products she had scoured the Internet for but did not procure. A month later, she roped in an accomplice, a female friend she had apparently met in a lion dance troupe in school.

The two would respond to queries and customers would transfer payment into their respective bank accounts within 24 hours after ordering the goods.

On June 20, the day the products were due for delivery, Jing Er deactivated the Facebook page and withdrew all the money from her bank account. She closed the account, then spent the money on food, travel and shopping.

She pleaded guilty on Sept 10 this year to 11 charges of cheating, with 105 others taken into consideration. These included two separate charges of theft in dwelling and unlawful assembly.

Pleading for leniency in his mitigation submissions, her lawyer, Mr Josephus Tan, pointed out that she was a first-time offender. He said she had suffered mentally and emotionally.

"The entire judicial process has taught our client a very bitter and traumatic lesson in that she now has to shoulder the disappointments of her father."

Jing Er declined comment when contacted on Friday.

Her accomplice, 17, who had pulled out of the scam on June 11 last year fearing arrest by the police, was sentenced to 18 months' probation on Aug 23 this year.

The maximum penalty for the offence is 10 years' jail and a fine.

Handing down the punishment on Friday, District Judge Lim Keng Yeow considered the number of victims and the value involved, and noted that Jing Er had persisted with the scam "to the very last minute".

He also considered Jing Er's age and that she had indicated she would change, saying: "I am giving you one chance."

But he warned that she could be sent for reformative training or even imprisoned if she re-offends.

Buyer beware

Buyers may have little recourse once they have paid money to a bogus online merchant, said lawyer Amolat Singh.

"Victims can sue to recover their money after the law has caught up with the culprit, but it may already be too late by then if the scammer has spent the proceeds."

Mr Singh, who does general litigation, including in contract and criminal law, listed two guidelines buyers should follow when making online purchases.

Be wary when dealing with non-institutional or individual sellers

Sellers could turn out, for example, to be bogus agents who claim the products ordered are with a supplier located elsewhere and therefore, buyers should not seek recourse from them in the event of non-delivery. Genuine online merchants, for example, may charge higher prices but they handle transactions in a clearer and more structured way.

Insist on payment methods other than paying directly into a seller's bank account

These include services like online payment website PayPal. Or insist on partial payment, with the balance to be settled after the goods are delivered. If the seller refuses to comply, buyers should be wary. This is because a genuine small-time merchant should not hesitate to grant such requests on payment.

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