News @ AsiaOne

Man gets SMS, phone threats in loan-shark scam

Mr Jason Lim is not the only victim - more than 180 people have received threatening SMSes in a new scam. -TNP
Eunice Toh and Linette Heng

Sun, Apr 14, 2013
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - Pay up, or we will "do your house". The message was not a reference to renovation but to something far more sinister.

The text message was the first thing Mr Jason Lim, 40, saw when he woke up on March 27. It was ominous. And he was puzzled.

But it got worse. That afternoon, he received a call from a private number. He was shocked when he realised he was speaking to a loan shark.

He did not owe any unlicensed moneylenders any money. Yet the caller was threatening to harm his family and vandalise his home if he didn't pay up.

Mr Lim is not alone in being threatened and traumatised. More than 180 people have received threatening SMSes in the past month. It is part of a loan-shark scam.

And at least 10 people, fearing for their safety, have given money, a police spokesman told The New Paper. They transferred about $18,000 to the culprits' bank accounts.

Speaking to TNP last month, Mr Lim, who works in the audio-visual line, said: "I was very confused (when I got the SMS). It sounded like a case of mistaken identity.

"I didn't bother calling the number. I just texted them, asking who it was and what they meant by 'do your house'."

Then he got the phone call.

Knew IC number

"The man spoke in Hokkien and said his name was Eric. He acted as if he had spoken to me before.

"He called me by my full name and even knew my IC number."

"Eric" said he had Mr Lim's SingPass number and claimed that Mr Lim owed him money.

Mr Lim said: "I insisted that I had not borrowed any money. He said we had both been cheated by a third party."

Eric told Mr Lim to transfer $4,000 to his bank account in return for giving Mr Lim the bank account number of the so-called third-party borrower.

Mr Lim could then go to the police with the details to make a report, the loan shark told him. But Mr Lim was suspicious and refused to transfer the money.

"He (had) told me that I borrowed money in July last year. They wouldn't give people so much time to pay the loan, and there is no interest rate. I thought it was fishy."

Eric then threatened to "do his house" if he did not pay up by 10pm that day.

After the call, Mr Lim checked with his parents if they had borrowed money from anyone.

"I was afraid that someone had used my name and IC number to borrow money from them."

He made a police report at 5pm the same day. Mr Lim was advised by the police not to worry, but to be careful. He said he felt like a prisoner in his own home that night.

Mr Lim, who has an 11-month-old daughter and a son, 16, said he was worried the men would do something funny.

He said: "I frequently got out of bed and looked through the peephole (of the door). I was living in fear."

Although Eric had not specified what he would do, vivid images kept appearing in Mr Lim's mind.

"I wondered if they were going to burn the house down, hang a pig's head on my gate or write stuff on my wall."

Fortunately, no one went to his house.

Mr Lim kept recounting Eric's threats about harassing his family and almost wanted to transfer the money to him.

Looking back, Mr Lim realised that a lot of things did not make sense.

"I should have asked him to give my address and SingPass number, to check if he actually knew.

"But I went into panic mode after he got my name and IC number correct, so I couldn't think in a calm manner."

Lawyer Ravinderpal Singh said he has heard of such scams and these can be considered as extortion or cheating.

Police are investigating the loan shark harassment scams.

But Mr Lim is still wary, even though it has been weeks since the threats.

"This is the first time I've been the target of a scam where I actually had a conversation with the person behind it.

"There is still this (nagging) fear that someone might have borrowed money using my name."

New scam

Using SMS harassment messages is a new scam.

A police spokesman said the public should be aware of such scams and to adopt the following measures:

- Do not reveal personal particulars such as name, IC number, address and contact details to unknown individuals

- Keep SingPass details confidential and do not disclose them to anyone

- Do not give in to unknown and unsolicited demands for loan repayments

- Do not contact the sender of the SMS messages

- Lodge a police report at or at any Neighbourhood Police Centre

Unlicensed moneylender harassment cases have dipped in recent years, from 11,776 in 2011 to 8,988 last year.

The number of people arrested for such cases also went down from 1,981 to 1,903.

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