SINGAPORE - The call from an unknown Chinese number came out of the blue.
The caller started by asking if he was busy and if he recognised him.
TNP reader Jeffrey Chua, 43, found the voice familiar. Thinking that it was one of his suppliers from China, he named a person he knew.
The man on the line immediately agreed that he was that person.
But by the end of the call, Mr Chua found the situation fishy.
After the caller rang his wife two days later with same story, he knew it was a scam and wrote to The New Paper to warn readers about it.
The police issued a statement on Tuesday reminding the public to be vigilant against such scams.
Criminals are coming up with more innovative ways to cheat unsuspecting victims, said a spokesman.
There have been at least 13 cases of "phone bail" scams between June and August. In four of these cases, people were cheated of $27,175.
Police said victims received calls purportedly from China, with the "+86" country code.
The caller would claim to be the victim's friend, say that he had been arrested and ask for a money transfer to pay the bail.
In Mr Chua's case, upon agreeing that he was a friend, the man said it was his new phone number and asked him to save it.
During the conversation, Mr Chua said he realised the man's voice and speaking style sounded slightly different. He asked the other party about it.
"Very confidently, he replied that he had had some drinks earlier and had a sore throat. After telling me he would be coming to Singapore a few days later and would contact me further, we hung up."
After the call, Mr Chua tried calling the friend he had named, but he did not get through. He decided not to pursue the matter.
But two days later, his wife got a call from the same number.
After she picked up and Mr Chua overheard the man's opening lines - "Are you busy? Do you know who I am?" - he said he took the phone from his wife.
"I told him off and told him not to call anymore. He quickly hung up."
But, his curiosity piqued, Mr Chua decided to find out more.
A few days later, Mr Chua called the number and greeted the person on the line by another name.
The man claimed he was that person.
"I asked him about a fictitious business meeting with another supplier and how it went. He said, 'It went well, we're still discussing.' I was convinced he was a fake."
On Aug 8, the man called him about eight times. Mr Chua said he chose not to take the calls as he was in Malaysia.
On Monday, however, Mr Chua decided to return the call.
"He asked me, 'Do you know any friends familiar with laws in China?' I said I didn't and asked him why.
"He said he'd gone for (sic) karaoke the night before, brought a hostess to the hotel and got caught by police.
"He said he was with five friends and they could either be fined 5,000 yuan (S$1,000) each or be remanded for 30 days," Mr Chua said.
The man then said that his cash was in the hotel and asked for a 30,000 yuan transfer, claiming he would return the money upon arriving in Singapore a few days later.
Mr Chua suggested a few fictitious friends, asking the man to reach out to them instead.
"He said they're not available. I then said, '...you think I'm so stupid (as) to believe you' and I hung up."
Mr Chua, who has been doing business with Chinese suppliers for over 10 years, said he does not know how the man got his number. He said he last went to China a few years ago.
And throughout the calls, he said he knew it was the same man from his voice.
"It was quite smooth," he said.
He said he called back because he wanted to "play along with him and expose him".
TNP calls scammer
THE New Paper dialled one of the phone numbers and spoke to the scammer. We called him by a fictitious name and he responded as if it were his.
TNP: Mr Loo?
"Mr Loo": Yes (in a calm and measured tone). Are you busy right now?
TNP: I've been told you are in some trouble. What happened?
"Mr Loo": I don't really know how to say this... What have you heard so far? (repeated sighs)
TNP: I heard you are in jail. What happened?
"Mr Loo": I don't really know how to say this. Well, I drank a lot and now we're kept at the station by the police.
"Mr Loo" then said he needed money for bail and that he had no credit cards on him. The station, he said, was in Guangzhou, China.
TNP: How much do you need?
Mr Loo: How much do you have?
TNP: I'll have to check. Depends on how much you need.
Mr Loo: Maybe $1,000 or $2,000?
The phone call ends after TNP agrees to check if we have the sum of money needed. We call back 10 minutes later, revealing our identity.
Ten minutes later, I called saying I was a reporter.
"Mr Loo": Huh?
TNP asks "Mr Loo" why he is cheating Singaporeans.
"Mr Loo": I don't understand what you are saying.
TNP asks him how he got the Singapore numbers and how many of them are operating.
"Mr Loo" hangs up.
- Do not remit or transfer money to people whom you do not know well enough. The criminal may spend months building rapport with you before asking for money.
-If you receive any message or call from anyone claiming he/she is in some kind of trouble overseas and needs you to urgently send money over, you should report the matter to police and not transfer the money.
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