'Transfer $$$ or be deported'

He was at home when he received a call from someone who introduced himself as a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officer, and asked him to verify his full name, date of birth and passport number.

Mr Prashant Bore Gowda, 33, who works in the information technology industry, was also asked about his last visit to India, then told that he had made a "mistake" in the declaration of his date of birth.

He was then threatened with immediate deportation within 24 hours, otherwise he would have to pay a heavy fine. He was then given the option to make three transfers of $1,000, $750 and, finally, another $750, which he was told would be refunded to him.

Mr Prasanth, who is from Bangalore and has been in Singapore for the past three years, told tabla!: "The caller was on the phone for more than three hours. Every time the call got cut, he would immediately call back."

Fearful of losing his job, Mr Prasanth agreed to the amounts. As he mentioned that he was at home in Kranji, he was then told to go to the nearest Western Union at Woodlands to transfer the money.

In total, he was scammed of $2,500. 

The caller told him to wait at Woodlands Civic Centre at 6pm where he would meet Mr Prasanth to settle the issue and refund the money. However, when the "officer" did not turn up, Mr Prasanth began to suspect that something was amiss. So he called two of his friends to ask about MOM's procedures. To his horror, they both told him that he may have been scammed and that he should make a police report immediately.

Meanwhile, he tried to contact MOM, which closes at 5.30pm, but the line was engaged.

Another victim, who did not want to reveal his name, related a similar experience. After verifying the number with that on MOM's website, he continued the call. However, when pressed with the deportation option, he agreed to be sent back to New Delhi, his hometown. That's when the impersonaters gave him an alternative, telling him that he was a valued worker and that he could rectify the mistake by paying a refundable amount of $1,000.

He was then directed to the nearest Western Union to make his payment and when he was there, the caller told him that he "had to pay an additional $1,000 to clear his name from the Indian side". After paying the two amounts and panic-stricken that he was left with little money, he tried contacting the caller again but the line was engaged. He realised that something was not right and went to a police station to file a report.

Both men said their callers knew that they had made recent trips to India. The men were just two of the 15 victims in a reported 37 cases who were cheated of over $31,000 between April 29 and May 22, said the police. In all the cases, the scammers would call the victims using a phone number similar to the MOM Contact Centre's hotline (6438-5122) and inform them about an error in their declaration of personal particulars.

They were then told to transfer money to an account to settle issues related to their stay in Singapore or work pass application.

MOM has clarified that it does not call members of the public to request for any fund transfers. The public are reminded to be wary of such phone calls. If you receive such calls, you should adopt the following crime prevention measures: Ignore the calls, do not transfer any money to the caller, either via remittance agencies, banks or any other means; and call the police immediately at 999 to report the case.

The public is also advised to call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000 for any information related to this crime.

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