Serial cheat tricked retailers out of $1.3m

A serial cheat took advantage of retailers' unfamiliarity with a seldom- used method of payment to "'spend" more than $1 million on gold bars, jewellery and technology products - even though he did not have enough money in his bank accounts to foot the bill.

Teo Ziqi would request an "offline" transaction, which ensured the lack of funds would not immediately be detected. He would hand over his debit card and provide a six-digit approval code purportedly issued by his bank - but this should have been obtained by the merchant, not the customer.

A charge slip, then signed by Teo, would be printed after the card was swiped and the false code keyed in, fooling victims into thinking the transaction had been approved. But this was not the case, and Teo's bank would eventually execute "chargebacks" on the transactions, leaving the merchants without their payment.

Teo was usually able to walk away with his loot uncontested. The former yoghurt store worker, who was bankrupt at the time, pawned or resold his purchases, which included gold bars, smartphones and iPads, and used some of the proceeds to gamble. Only $140,200 worth of goods was recovered. His scam was eventually discovered by the authorities, who caught him in the act.

Teo, 31, has numerous previous convictions, many of them for cheating. Yesterday, he was sentenced to six years of corrective training - a tough prison regime for repeat offenders without remission for good behaviour - after pleading guilty to 23 charges.

These comprised 20 counts of cheating or trying to cheat - involving $1,285,762 - one of forgery, and two of failing to pay an entry levy to each of the two casinos here.

Teo was fined $2,000 for the two casino offences. Some 13 other charges, including of theft in dwelling, were also taken into consideration.

The court heard that when executing the scam in Sept and Oct 2012, Teo would on many occasions pretend to call his bank in front of the outlet's staff to obtain the approval code.

In two instances at a Boon Lay pawn shop, he promptly converted the loot to cash by purchasing gold bars then immediately pawning them.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Tan said Teo's purchases had been "systematic" and of high-value goods, which he resold or pawned with "remarkable speed". He pointed out that Teo's ploys had been so well-rehearsed that he successfully fooled 10 different victims, including senior sales executives and even a director.

For each count of cheating and inducing his victims to hand over property, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

This article was first published on July 16, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.