Man jailed 6 years for role in $1.04m POSB/DBS ATM scam

File photo of Singapore’s currency. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
File photo of Singapore’s currency. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

A 65-year-old Malaysian man was sentenced to six years’ jail on Thursday (13 July) for planting skimming devices on ATMs at Bugis Village and Shaw Tower.

Ong Teng Koye’s actions led to 724 DBS/POSB Singapore bank accounts being compromised, with $1.04 million in unauthorised withdrawals having been performed on the accounts via ATMs in Malaysia. The loss was eventually borne by DBS bank.

Working for a Malaysia-based syndicate, Ong’s job was to install the skimming devices on ATMs in Singapore, which would capture encoded ATM card information and personal identification numbers (PINs) of those who used the machines. This data was then used to create cloned ATM cards that were then used to make monetary withdrawals from ATMs in Malaysia.

Ong planted these devices on three ATMs, two at Bugis village another at Shaw Tower, between 21 November and 17 December 2011.

For these acts, he was convicted on three counts of conspiracy to commit unauthorised interception of a computer function under the Computer Misuse Act. Six similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

Shady employers

The court heard that Ong worked for a Caucasian man, who was a member of a transnational ATM-skimming syndicate based in Malaysia whose members included Eastern Europeans and Malaysians.

In November 2011, Ong met the man at a coffeeshop in Johor Bahru. The man offered Ong a job involving planting the skimming devices onto ATMs in Singapore, and promised the latter $200 for each device planted. Desperate for money, Ong – who was an odd-job labourer at the time – agreed to work for the man.

Ong was given two devices: a green plastic device resembling an ATM card slot, and a long grey metal piece, which was a pinhole camera. The plastic device was a magnetic strip reader able to obtain the data stored on cards inserted into ATMs, while the camera was used to take videos of users typing their PINs into the ATMs.

The Caucasian man taught Ong how to install the skimming devices onto ATMs and activate them. Ong was told to install the devices and then return five to six hours later to collect them. Once his work was completed, he was then to return to Malaysia and hand the devices over to his employer.

Using the information obtained by the devices, the syndicate would then create cloned ATM cards and use them to make withdrawals from ATMs in Malaysia.

Between 4 and 10 January 2012, the police received 142 reports of fraudulent withdrawals – amounting to $181,400.11 in total – from their DBS/POSB bank accounts in Malaysia.

Having been identified as being involved in the scam, a warrant of arrest was issued against Ong in February 2012. Ong had left the country by that point but was arrested at the Woodlands Checkpoint on 13 December 2016 and was handed over to the Commercial Affairs Department.

Smaller role, dire consequences

Pushing for a six-year jail sentence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Suhas Malhotra noted that while Ong had played a smaller role in the scam, his actions resulted in dire consequences.

“Ultimately it was his actions that were critical and central in creating (the) loss,” he said, adding that the crimes were “severe” due to the large sums of money involved. “He must have known what he was doing would cause financial losses to the institution,” said the DPP.

Ong’s lawyer, Wilson Foo, asked for a sentence of one to three years’ jail citing his client’s age and medical conditions – which include diabetes and hypertension. Ong has made no restitution to DBS/POSB for the losses the institution incurred.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur disagreed with the defence’s suggestion, adding that Ong was 60 when he committed the offences. In delivering the sentence, DJ Kaur called such crimes the “scourges of the technological era” and noted that they were hard to detect.

“Although you were not directly involved, you planted the devices on the ATM, you must have known the devices would generate loss,” she told Ong, whose sentence will be backdated to 15 December 2016.

For being part of a conspiracy to commit unauthorised interception of a computer function, Ong could have been jailed for up to three years and/or fined $10,000 on a first conviction.

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