SINGAPORE - It took her two years to save up the $17,000 she needed for her wedding, and in just one day in September last year, she lost the money to a job scam.
Iris (not her real name), 34, had come across an advertisement on Facebook for a part-time marketing gig.
She thought she could make some extra money for her big day, which was scheduled for the end of 2021.
The hours were flexible and she could do the assignments online.
She messaged them on Sept 16 last year and they replied immediately, saying she was hired as an affiliate marketing associate, purportedly for e-commerce platform Qoo10.
The Singaporean, who is working in an administrative role in an engineering company, was then instructed to use her own money to pay in advance for products on the platform, to boost the sales figures of merchants.
The "hirer", who Iris only exchanged WhatsApp messages with, said she would be reimbursed with a small commission.
She was then put in a WhatsApp group where she noticed some instructions came from people with foreign telephone numbers.
"I thought it was strange that (the scammers) told me to make payment to a bank account they provided, instead of paying on the platform.
"But I brushed it off thinking I was paying directly to the merchant's bank account," she said.
Within an hour on the same day, Iris had transferred $620 to them and made about $100 in profits from "buying" four items on the platform.
When she saw she had $720 transferred to her account, she accepted another assignment that entailed transferring a larger sum of $1,600 to "buy" a mini desktop.
When her money was not returned, she reached out to the "hirers" who claimed that they could not pay her back as she had taken longer than 10 minutes to complete the task.
Iris, who said she was not told she was on the clock, was then directed to perform "overtime tasks" if she wanted her funds back.
"Getting my money back was all I could think about. I just followed instructions because I thought that was my only hope," she said.
Even as Iris did their bidding and transferred different sums, including $6,700 at one go, the scammers told her she had done the job wrongly or was too slow.
In a few hours, she had spent more than $17,000 "buying" desktops, watches, gym equipment, video games and jewellery from six merchants.
Iris pleaded to the WhatsApp group administrator directly but was ignored.
She finally lodged a police report on Sept 17 last year and told her fiance about the incident.
They decided to postpone the wedding indefinitely.
"I lost almost everything I'd been saving up for my wedding. I was naive and too eager to make money that it didn't even cross my mind that it could be a scam," said Iris.
"The toughest part has been keeping this a secret from my family. I'm too ashamed to tell them and I don't want them to worry.
"I can only tell them I'm putting off the wedding due to Covid-19."
The Singapore-headquartered Qoo10 said in its website that it is aware of job scams where fraudsters pretend to be their business partners.
It clarified that it is not associated with any recruitment agency on SMS, Facebook or Instagram and has urged customers to report these advertisements to the police.
The Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre developed a 6S Anti-Scam Self-Protection Principles to help Singaporeans defend themselves against scams. They are:
1. Spot the signs - Recognise the tactics that scammers use.
2. Stop and think - Ask yourself or others if a statement, message or job offer could be true.
3. Slow down, don't rush - Do not rush into providing your personal or banking details.
4. Speak to others - Check with others to verify the authenticity of a claim before doing anything.
5. Safeguard personal details and passwords - Never disclose personal information, even if the request appears to be legitimate.
6. Seek help - Talk to friends or family members for advice or support if you have been impacted by a scam.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.