Serial conman gets 11 months' jail for cheating the elderly

SINGAPORE - A judge made clear that "simple-minded elderly folk" need to be protected when she jailed a serial cheat who had conned seven people.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur said the sums - $2,298 in all - were relatively small but the money meant a lot to the vulnerable, low-income victims.

"He scouted for low-income, poorly-educated elderly victims of his own ethnic group as they were most likely to fall prey to his deception," she noted in judgment grounds released last week.

Jumahri Suriman, 56, had pleaded guilty to three charges of cheating and theft, with five other counts taken into consideration for sentencing. He was jailed for a total of 11 months for two charges, with another five months for the third charge to run concurrently.

In one case, he pretended to be from a welfare group and talked an 82-year-old woman into giving him $200 on the false promise that he would help her get financial aid. While the woman, who was home alone, went to the bedroom to get money, he stole her mobile phone.

On another occasion, he passed himself off as a staff member of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council and duped a 66-year-old town council cleaner into giving him $350. He had promised to help her get a $400 fortnightly wage that he said should have been her correct "full salary".

His lawyer, S. K. Kumar, urged the court to sentence Jumahri to a symbolic term of one day in jail and fine him instead, given that he had paid back what he took and pleaded guilty.

But District Judge Kaur deemed this "unrealistic", stressing that Jumahri would have been jailed longer had he not done so, noting that cheating carries a maximum 10-year jail term.

The judge said he had come up with a deliberate, calculated plan and used "different scams to hoodwink" elderly victims in old public housing estates.

The judge also noted that Jumahri had previously been put behind bars to undergo long corrective training and preventive detention terms for various offences.

But she placed less weight on his past prison record, as he had kept a clean slate for 16 years.

The judge said she would have called for a report to be done to decide if he was suitable for preventive detention, if not for the fact that he had not re-offended for 16 years. Preventive detention involves a seven-year jail term.

She was also not convinced by a psychiatric report tendered by Jumahri which explained that he committed the offences because he was stressed and mentally depressed as he was jobless then.

"Financial pressure is no excuse for offending, " she said, noting that Jumahri had found a job on Aug 1 last year, but still committed three cheating offences in the same month.

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