S'pore couple forced by JB robbers to withdraw money from ATMs

Mr Lim, 35, said the men demanded he pay up.

What was supposed to be a short trip to Johor Baru for a singaporean couple turned into four hours of hell.

The couple were allegedly robbed after an attempt to flee led to a horrifying car chase.

Then followed four nerve-racking hours driving around the city from one ATM to another to draw money to pay the men.

The two men, armed with a knife, took off with RM6,000 (S$2,400) and their mobile phones - an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. This is how the events last Saturday unfolded.

1. You owe me money

It started at a petrol station opposite Plaza Pelangi, a shopping mall in Johor Baru frequented by singaporeans.

Mr and Mrs Lim (they refused to give their full names or be identified in photographs as they feared for their safety) had just come from a hair salon near the mall. They were refuelling their car, a white Volkswagen Scirocco, for the trip home at about 11.15pm.

They were suddenly approached by two men in their 30s, one of whom had a knife. The men said Mr Lim owed them RM65,000 and recognised him through his vehicle's licence plate number.

Said Mr Lim, 35, who runs a car dealership: "I have never borrowed money from anyone in Malaysia."

The couple have travelled to Johor Baru more than 40 times in the past two years and have never encountered anyone making such a claim.

As his wife called the police, Mr Lim tried to stall for time by arguing with the two men. The Johor police headquarters was less than 100m away.

"I kept telling (the men) it's a case of mistaken identity, but they became aggressive, pushing me and clenching their fists in my face," he said.

"At that time, there were a lot of people at the petrol station who saw what happened, but none of them helped us."

Mrs Lim, 32, claimed she spoke to a Johor police officer over the phone and was assured that help would come soon.

Johor Baru deputy police chief Ismail Yatim confirmed that they got a call for help from Mrs Lim.

A patrol vehicle was promptly sent to investigate, but the couple were gone by the time they arrived. Police also tried to call them but the number was not in use, said Mr Ismail.

Meanwhile, fearing for their safety, Mr Lim sped off towards the immigration checkpoint.

2. Threatened with knife

That was when he realised the men were chasing him in a white lorry, which he believed was modified. it soon overtook the couple and weaved dangerously in front of their car.

Said Mr Lim: "We were speeding towards the checkpoint, trying to escape. But I couldn't outrun him at all. Many people were honking their horns at us."

The lorry suddenly braked in front of them, forcing them to stop near a Shell petrol station just half a kilometre away from the checkpoint.

The man who carried the knife alighted and walked over to Mrs Lim's side of the car, threatening to smash the window.

Said Mr Lim: "I was afraid of what he would do to my wife if he got in, so I wound down my side of the window. I didn't expect him to come over and snatch the car keys from the ignition."

The man allegedly forced Mrs Lim to go to the back seat.

He then entered the car, sitting beside Mr Lim.

"He didn't pull out his knife and he kept telling us that it wasn't a robbery and he just wanted us to return him the money that we owed," said Mr Lim.

3. Don't insult me

The man ordered Mr lim to drive to a car wash, where someone would bring them documents proving Mr lim's debt.

But those documents never arrived. Mr Lim claimed the man seemed to get more desperate, hurling Hokkien vulgarities at them.

They were then told to drive a short distance to a 7-Eleven store, followed closely by the white lorry.

There, the man gave them an ultimatum: Leave the car, or pay the man "compensation" to make it worth his time.

Mr Lim said: "I lied that I only carried RM400 with me, but my wife blurted out that she had RM3,000."

Said Mrs Lim, who works in a bank: "I was so terrified of the man, I didn't dare to try anything different."

But the man wasn't satisfied and allegedly told the couple "don't insult me". He then ordered them to drive to an ATM to withdraw more cash.

4. No cash

It was 2.30am when they arrived at a standard chartered aTM, which was situated opposite the Johor police headquarters.

Said Mr Lim: "I saw no police around, but I made sure the ATM's closed-circuit television cameras captured the man's face."

But the ATM could not dispense any cash.

5. Call your bank

They went to another aTM operated by ciMB Bank near Plaza Pelangi at about 3am. Even then, he still could not withdraw any cash as his UoB aTM card was not approved for overseas withdrawal.

"He made me call the bank over speakerphone to activate the card," said Mr Lim. "The bank staff told me to wait until 3.30am for the card to be activated."

Mr Lim claimed the man also began to call several people for advice on how to proceed, and Mr Lim heard male and female voices on the other end.

He could not understand what was said as the man spoke in Malay, but he thought the man suspected he was being tricked.

Then, instead of waiting until 3.30am, the man told the driver in the white lorry to return home and forced the couple to drive to another ATM near City Square Mall.

6. Ordeal ends at 4am

At a hong leong Bank ATM, Mr Lim managed to withdraw RM3,000 when his earlier request to authorise overseas withdrawals took effect.

"At that point, I just wanted to leave. I wanted to give him the money and go, but he told me to drop him off elsewhere first," he said.

They drove to a hawker centre, where the ordeal finally ended at about 4am, after the man took the cash and their mobile phones and escaped.

Before he left, however, the man gave him two numbers to call and told them to collect their mobile phones at Woodlands Centre later that morning.

Said Mr Lim: "I didn't even think of giving chase. I drove off to the checkpoint straightaway. I didn't even call any of the numbers or go to Woodlands Centre either." The couple made a report at the police station at the Customs and immigration checkpoint in Johor Baru and were told to make a detailed report at their police headquarters. Mr Lim flatly refused.

"There's no way they will make me go near where we first met the men that night," he said.

They went straight home.

The couple had to return to the same police headquarters on Tuesday to speak to police investigators. Said Mrs Lim about her return trip: "I was trembling the whole time. What if it happens again?"

Said Mr Lim: "It was such a scary experience for me and my wife. No way am I going back to Johor Baru again."

Tips from Singapore and Johor police

1. never take shortcuts through dark, deserted places. keep to well-lit areas with people and traffic.

2. pack your belongings in inconspicuous bags. Expensive bags can draw unnecessary attention.

3. clean out your wallet or purse before you go. take only essential credit cards. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

4. don't display expensive jewellery, cameras and other items that might draw attention.

5. don't be distracted by strangers creating a commotion or accidentally spilling something onto you.

6. carry your purse close to your body. carry your wallet in your front pocket.

7. park your vehicle in well-lit areas and in parking spaces where there is security.

8. use additional security equipment such as steering wheel locks, clutch and brake locks, disc locks, gear locks and audible alarm systems to secure your vehicle.

Johor police hotline: 07-221-2999

OTHER S'POREANS ROBBED IN JB THIS YEAR

WHEN

SEPT 3

WHAT

Ms Fie, 41, and her family were driving along Jalan tebrau when two men on a motorcycle smashed the front passenger side window of her car and snatched a gold kate spade handbag. the handbag contained ms fie's ic, driver's licence, three bank cards, work security pass, house keys, car key and $297 in singapore and malaysian currency.

WHEN

JULY 30

WHAT

Madam Rajeswary Kartigeyan was abducted by at least three people, one of whom was just a boy of about 15 years old, outside sultanah Aminah hospital at Jalan persiaran Abu bakar sultan. she was bundled into the back seat of a car, bound, blindfolded, gagged with tape and told she would be murdered if she did not comply with the abductors' demands.

she was robbed of $360 in singapore and malaysian currency, jewellery worth $4,000 and her mobile phone.

WHEN

MARCH 19

WHAT

Mr Effande Mohamad Yashin and a couple, Mr Shah and Madam Emma, were preparing to leave their friend's home at taman nusa perintis, gelang patah, when a white honda with four men stopped in front of them. A man jumped out of the car and put a rusty parang to mr shah's neck.

Another man got out of the car and brandished a metal rod about the length of a baseball bat at madam Emma. the robbers took madam Emma's handbag containing the couple's ics and passports, about 10 credit and debit cards, multiple work and personal documents, and about $100 in singapore and malaysian currency.

WHEN

MARCH 3

WHAT

Events planner Serene Tay, 38, was robbed by a motorcyclist while she was waiting in her car for her cousin at taman sentosa.

The rider gestured to her and knocked on her window. when she ignored him, he used a metal rod to smash the front passenger side window. she got out of the car to try to escape, but was then attacked, leaving her with abrasions and chest pains. the robber fled with her mobile phone and wallet, which contained about RM1,500 (s$600).

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