Beware of "mixed delivery order" scams when buying goods online: Police

SINGAPORE - The police have noted that the number of cases of "mixed delivery order" scams has increased.

Under this scam, victims not only fail to receive goods purchased online but are cheated into making further payments before they realise they have been cheated. 

There have been 53 such cases of this reported in July and August this year, with the total amount cheated at over $40,000.

In comparison, for the whole of last year, only 26 such cases were reported.

The scams take the form of online advertisements, with the culprits usually selling electronic products like smartphones, tablet PCs, and laptops below market prices.

Interested victims would be asked to make payments through interbank transfers to local bank accounts or to remit payment via remittance agencies to overseas accounts.

The victims are then cheated into making further payments through emails sent by the culprits regarding shipment problems like the following:

1) Items were held or wrongly delivered to another country - an additional payment is required to retrieve the item(s).

2) Items were seized at the Customs - an additional payment is required for storage fees, and victims receive the purported "seizure notice" in the email for added credibility.

3) Items faced courier/shipment problems faced - there was a mix-up with other items from a different order. As the delivery could not be cancelled (one-way delivery), victims need to pay for the cost of additional items. Alternatively, victims are offered the option to return the additional items back to source, but need to pay an additional refundable guarantee fee.

4) Items included in the package required minimum quantity / package was too light - the despatch manager could not authorise shipment as it did not meet the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ), thus requesting victim to put in more orders and make subsequent payments.

"Money mules" to avoid detection

To avoid detection, culprits recruited "money mules", who are holders of local bank accounts, to transfer the proceeds of crime from the mule's bank accounts to the culprits. The culprits usually contact potential mules through social network sites and adopt various guises to appeal to target mules, such as by claiming to offer a business opportunity, or to seek a romantic relationship.

Over time, trust is gained and the mules are convinced to assist in the culprits' purported businesses by making bank fund transfers. The mules assist to transfer the inflow of funds received in their bank accounts (which are the criminal proceeds from the scams) to an overseas account held by culprits, and may receive a commission for their role. By doing so, they may have committed the offence of Dishonestly Receiving Stolen Property under Section 411 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224, which is punishable with imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine, or both.

The mules may also be asked by culprits to purchase pre-paid SIM cards with local phone numbers to facilitate the scam. These local phone numbers are featured on the culprit's online advertisements to add credibility to the advertisements. Culprits will also communicate with potential victims through online mobile messaging applications using the local phone numbers.

Police Advisory

Members of public are advised to be aware of such scams and to adopt the following measures:

1) Do business with those you know and trust. Be sure you know who the company or person is and where they are physically located, even if a local number is used. Businesses operating in cyberspace may be located in another part of the world. Resolving problems with someone unfamiliar may be more complicated in cross-border transactions.

2) Understand the offer. Look carefully at the information about the goods and ask for more information when required. A legitimate business would gladly provide it. Ensure that you know what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, the return, cancellation policy and the terms of any guarantee. Do not be lured by the discount to purchase the goods.

3) Never give your bank account numbers, credit card numbers and personal information to anyone you don't know or have not checked out. Do not provide information that is not necessary to make the purchase.

4) Check out the track record of the company/seller. Ask the company/seller for their list of clients/customers. Make enquiries with the clients/customers on the background and services provided by the company/seller. Be wary that fraud artists can appear and disappear especially in cyberspace, so the lack of a complaint record is no guarantee of legitimacy

5) Know that the people in cyberspace may not be what they seem. Someone who is sharing a "friendly" tip about a moneymaking scheme or great bargain in a chat room or on a bulletin board may have an ulterior motive i.e. to make money.

6) Do not help others you have met online to make funds transfers or assist in making remittances of unknown sources of money. By doing so, you may be committing a crime, by aiding and abetting a criminal in receiving the proceeds from crime. Anyone who assists others to move the proceeds from crime may be liable for criminal offences whether or not there was monetary benefit.