Ex-recruiter used scanned NRIC copies to get 207 reusable masks

·Senior Reporter
·4-min read
Residents get free reusable face masks from a vending machine by scanning their identification card, set up by the government as part of the effort to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a community centre in Singapore on May 28, 2020. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Residents get free reusable face masks from a vending machine by scanning their identification card, set up by the government as part of the effort to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a community centre in Singapore on May 28, 2020. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A former job recruiter used the scanned copies of identification cards (NRICs) that he had amassed over eight years to collect hundreds of disposable face masks issued by the government. 

Emerson Goh Shou En, 32, decided to illegally collect the face masks from vending machines after realising that the automated machines required no extra form of verification beyond scanning barcodes. 

Goh, now a contact tracer with NTUC Fairprice, was jailed for seven months, six weeks' on Monday (10 May), after he pleaded guilty to one count each of cheating, illegally retaining personal information, and leaving his house during the circuit breaker period for a forbidden purpose. He was also fined $3,000. 

Two charges of leaving his residence during the circuit breaker for a forbidden purpose were taken into consideration for sentencing.

His lawyer, Riko Isaac, told the court that Goh, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), had taken the masks as he intended to use the reusable masks as disposable masks. 

Used personal documents which he kept

Formerly a recruiter for five different firms, Goh was tasked to collate job applications, which included personal documents, to shortlist applicants based on criteria given by employers.

However, Goh kept the scanned NRIC copies of 384 individuals beyond the duration of his job scope. 

When the government conducted its third iteration of the nation-wide mask collection exercise last May, designated vending machines were placed islandwide for individuals to collect their masks at their own timing. Only one face mask was issued per NRIC number. 

On 26 May last year, Goh collected his reusable mask at the vending machine and realised that there was no further verification required. He then schemed to redeem more adult face masks by scanning the NRIC copies that he had with him. 

He returned to the vending machine at Changi Simei Community Club on a number of occasions to illicitly collect face masks, wearing a white cap to conceal his face from CCTV cameras. 

In total, he managed to collect 207 masks belonging to others. The masks were valued at $2,049.30. 

The community club lodged a police report stating that an unidentified male had been collecting 30 masks from the vending machine.

Six other reports were made from May to June last year, each with the complainant stating that they were unable to collect their face masks as they had already been redeemed. 

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yeow Xuan sought at least seven months and six weeks' jail for Goh, and a $3,000 fine. 

She cited the number of victims' whose personal information he still retained and the number of masks he had taken.

"The accused abused his position of trust as a recruiter. The victims sent him scanned copies of their NRIC for one reason, for their specific job application, but he retained these (copies) for close to eight years," she said.  

Heard a voice, said defence lawyer

Lawyer Isaac said that his client had not sold the masks to make a profit as he had intended to use them as disposable masks. 

He added that the masks were all recovered and Goh had offered to make restitution but was rejected. While the total value of the masks Goh took was more than $2,000, there was no loss to the People's Association – which disbursed the masks – as they were all recovered. 

According to an IMH report, Goh first visited a hospital in June last year for auditory hallucination and a brain scan showed that he had a malformation of the brain and had OCD traits, such as frequent hand washing, long baths and using an inordinate amount of soap to wash his hands. 

Goh's psychiatric condition and the pandemic caused more stress to Goh, causing him to hear a voice in his head asking him to withdraw the masks from the vending machines.  

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