Four years' jail for loan shark scam

SINGAPORE - A loan shark runner threatened innocent victims into paying bogus debts and collected $22,000 from them within four months.

In a case that the prosecution pointed out as "unprecedented", Goh Sze Liang, 25, was jailed on Tuesday for four years. He was also fined $30,000.

He had pleaded guilty to cheating and assisting in an unlicensed money-lending business.

A district court heard that he had cheated 12 victims and attempted to cheat a further 137 people between January and April this year.

His crime spree began after he approached a loan shark known to him as Edwin in Thailand last year for a job. He did so as he had to clear $60,000 of gambling losses to another loan shark named Ricky, whom Edwin is acquainted with.

Edwin gave Goh a thumb drive which the loan shark said contained a database of debtors' personal particulars and advised him to work with Ricky when he returned to Singapore.

The names, identity card numbers and addresses of debtors were listed in the database but there were also names and identity card numbers of individuals who had not borrowed any money.

Goh, who helped out in his grandfather's furniture making business, went to work as a runner in January. He called debtors and demanded payment.

The money was transferred into designated accounts and Goh would pass the collection daily to Ricky's henchmen.

The $150 he earned each day went to offset his debt.

He soon realised that he could get those who did not owe money to Ricky to pay up.

He would text a message to a victim, threatening to burn the door of his house if payments were not made.

When the victim called him to protest that he had not taken any loan from Ricky, Goh would claim that someone else had borrowed money from Ricky using the victim's particulars.

As the text message contained the victim's full name and identity card number, the victim would assume that Goh also had his address.

Out of fear, the victim would transfer the money to a bank account specified by Goh.

The attempted cheating charges involved people who refused to pay and went to the police instead.

Calling for a deterrent sentence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Michelle Yeo brought to the court's attention the large number of innocent victims.

In sentencing him, District Judge Toh Yung Cheong said Goh had practised "mass intimidation of many victims".

For each cheating charge, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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