Runner in online police impersonation scams jailed 22 months

(AFP file photo)

A man who acted as a runner for the transnational syndicate behind a spate of online police impersonation scams in Singapore was jailed 22 months on Wednesday (20 September).

Lim Han Soon, a 33-year-old Malaysian, pleaded guilty to two charges of assisting another to retain benefits from criminal conduct.

The court heard that Lim had helped to transfer $49,860 out of Singapore to a bank account in China on 8 May this year while under the instructions from an unnamed person he had gotten to know through WeChat. The money belonged to a Shen Yong Yan Frankie, a 35-year-old Singaporean.

Investigations revealed that Shen had received a call around 12.12pm on the same day from an unknown person who claimed to be from the Singapore Police Force. The person told Shen that he was being investigated for money laundering activities in China.

The call was then transferred to a “Chen” claiming to be from China Interpol, who then in turn told Shen that someone named “Lee Qiang” had alleged that Shen laundered the money through his HSBC bank account. Shen was directed to a fake website, where he was asked to reveal his personal particulars and existing bank account details.

Even though he did not have a HSBC bank account, Shen believed the call to be a genuine one and entered all his log-in credentials for his UOB and DBS accounts. He also later revealed his Secure PIN passwords for both bank accounts to someone named “Wong” claiming to be from China Interpol.

At around 8.52pm on the same day, “Wong” called Shen again and told him that he had been very helpful in assisting the police investigations. Shen was asked to go to the Police Headquarters in Singapore to meet someone from the police force.

Upon arriving, he was told by the attending officer that he had been scammed and was advised to make a police report. A check also revealed that sums of $49,860 and $10,000 had been transferred out of his UOB and DBS bank accounts, respectively.

The money was transferred to a bank account belonging to Soo Hong Eng, a 55-year-old Singaporean. Soo had earlier received a call from someone who claimed to be from China Interpol, and had similarly given her bank details to the caller. However, Soo had a bank balance of only $235 at that point.

Instructions were then given to both Lim and Soo to meet at Simei Street 5 to hand over the money. Soo was asked to withdraw $49,800 in cash and pass it to Lim in person.

After collecting the money, Lim used some of it to gamble at a Resorts World Sentosa casino. He was later asked to hand the cash over to a lorry driver at Tuas Checkpoint before returning to Malaysia.

The following morning, Lim was tasked to collect the money from an unknown person in Johor Bahru and then have it converted to Malaysian ringgit at an unlicensed money changer, after which he was to remit the equivalent sum in yuan to a Chinese bank account.

Lim also earned a commission based on the differences in exchange rates, although it was not made known how much he made. He was finally arrested on 16 May while collecting cash from a person named Fong Choon Ho at Geylang East Avenue 3. It was not made clear if any of the money siphoned from Shen was recovered.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Asoka Markandu called for a stiff deterrent sentence to be imposed for such cases and pushed for a sentence of at least 24 months.

“A strong deterrent message is… warranted to warn like-minded syndicate runners from committing money laundering offences in Singapore,” Asoka said.

However, Lim was given 22 months to reflect the 52 days he had spent in remand before posting bail. To date, police have arrested over 20 people who were involved at various points of the scam. Lim is the 11th person to be convicted in the matter.

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