Don’t talk to strangers on WeChat, iAround: police

An AXS machine in Singapore. (Yahoo photo)

Over more than two months, Mr Lim was repeatedly messaged by a girl he did not know who had earlier added him on WeChat.
 
Lim, 26, had installed the app on his phone on the urging of his friends, who were all on it. He had been using it for two years, and this was the first time he was being contacted by a girl he did not know.
 
“Her photo was just a normal selfie, and it was random of me to accept her, but I just thought maybe we could talk,” he told Yahoo Singapore.
 
Right after he accepted her friend request, though, she asked him if they could meet up. He said no repeatedly, owing to his shifts, but when he eventually agreed when he got a rest day.
 
When he arrived at the meeting point — Clementi MRT station — he started to feel worried. She had told him she is a Taiwanese studying in Singapore but couldn’t understand a word of English — something that he felt weird about. His plan was to simply make a friend, grab a coffee perhaps, and then head on to dinner with his friends in town.
 
He then received a phone call from her, asking him, with a distinctly mainland Chinese accent, if he had reached the station. He said yes, and she promptly hung up, giving way to another call that came in almost immediately. This time, it was a Taiwanese man, who told him in Mandarin that he had to “pay” before being able to meet the girl, claiming he was her friend.
 
“So at first, I said ‘no, why do I have to pay?’ and he said ‘you have to pay, you’ve already asked my friend to come out’,” he said. “I then said I didn’t want to meet her anymore, but that’s when he started to threaten me — he said if I hung up and did not pay, he would follow me home and ‘do anything’ to me and my family.”
 
This frightened him, he said, as he has an elderly mother at home whom he did not want to make worried about the situation, so he decided — especially after the phantom caller successfully identified the colour of the T-shirt he was wearing — to quickly comply and pay the amount the caller was asking for so he could leave the area.
 
Over the phone, the Taiwanese caller directed Lim to an AXS machine and instructed him to purchase $100 worth of Alipay vouchers from Chinese shopping site Taobao. After that was done, though, Lim says he was told that he had to pass the receipt to someone in person, but first, to ensure he was not a plainclothes policeman, he would have to leave a deposit of $1,000 in the form of Alipay vouchers, which the caller promised to return in cash once he handed over both receipts.
 
By this time, Lim says he was at the station for close to three hours from all the negotiation, during which the caller insisted he printed a receipt from an automated teller machine that contained his bank account balance, because it “contained something that proves I’m not a police officer”.
 
“I knew that was nonsense and said it too, but he still made me do it, and when I blanked my account balance out, he then asked me for it — I’m just glad I lied to him about it, if not I would have lost even more money,” he said.
 
In total — owing to a $14.50 processing fee for every $200 transacted, Lim was cheated of $1,150 that day. He, alongside at least nine others so far since July, had fallen victim to what the police are now calling the Alipay scam — which unfolds in a manner very similar to Lim’s experience.
 
So far, those who were cheated have been men, and were initially contacted by foreign women on WeChat and iAround, say police. In some cases, sexual favours were promised in exchange for the Alipay purchase cards, they added, and scammers would either call victims or communicate with them via online messaging.
 
“Be wary of strangers who befriend you online, do not give personal details about yourself when interacting with other internet users, and do not share your payment receipts containing details such as PINs with anyone,” they said in an advisory.
 
If you think you have been approached by an Alipay scammer, please call the police hotline at 1800-255 0000 or dial 999 for urgent Police assistance.

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