It was a spelling error that saved a young woman from becoming a victim of an Internet love scam.
The woman in her 20s had shown an Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) bank teller a message on her phone with details of the scammer’s name and bank account in January this year.
Noticing a typo in it, the teller then alerted a bank officer who brought it up to customer service manager Cindy Lim, 52, who has been with the bank for 34 years.
The victim then told Lim that she had been instructed to remit $2,600 so that she could receive branded goods – an iPhone 8, branded bags and perfume – that were then in Malaysia.
Alarm bells rang when Lim, who was trained to identify possible scam victims, saw some of the romantic messages that the victim had exchanged with the scammer whom she befriended on Facebook.
The victim, initially unconvinced, was later escorted to a police station and saved from remitting the money over.
It was not Lim’s first encounter of the sort, however.
“I spent five to six hours convincing another customer (who wanted to remit $55,000). I got a staff (member) to bring her to the police station for her interview, and the next day she came to thank us for stopping her in time,” said Lim.
On Saturday (3 February), Lim and 42 other individuals from a total of 17 organisations were recognised for their efforts in scam prevention at the Cybercrimes and Anti-Scam Campaign Roadshow held at Suntec City’s North Atrium.
“For two consecutive years in a row, our crime situation has improved and Singapore remains one of the safest cities in the world. A large part of it is due to the partnership with the community that… has helped the police greatly in preventing and solving crimes,” Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo told reporters on the sidelines of the event.
Incidents of internet love scams rose 29.9 per cent in 2017 to a historical high of 825 cases, with the amounts lost in such cases increasing by 54.2 per cent from $24 million to $37 million, said the police at an annual crime briefing held on the same day.
In 2017, the highest amount cheated in a single online love scam was a historical high of nearly $6 million.
However, the China officials impersonation scams – first uncovered in 2016 – saw a 62.9 per cent decline from 501 cases in 2016 to 186 cases in 2017. The total amount cheated via such scams in 2017 stood at $12.5 million compared with the $23.6 million lost in 2016.
These scams involved offenders posing as Chinese authorities to dupe victims into remitting money to accounts in China.
Lim’s colleague and fellow customer service manager Sim Chin Ngui, 58, was also awarded for her efforts in intercepting a China officials impersonation scam.
In September last year, a woman in her late 40s who appeared distressed while speaking to someone on the phone had caught the attention of an auxiliary police officer on duty at OCBC’s Orchard Gateway branch.
Upon further probing by other bank staff, the woman said she had been directed by a caller –supposedly from Interpol China – to apply for an OCBC Internet Banking token.
She also admitted to having disclosed to the scammer personal information such as her bank account number, password, ATM pin and passport number. She had close to $50,000 in her OCBC bank account at the time.
The matter was then referred to Sim who advised the woman to close her account and prepared a Cashier’s Order for her. Sim also suggested that the customer to make a police report at the nearby police station.
“I waited for her to come back with the police report (before giving her the cheque), because I didn’t know if there was a scammer waiting for her outside,” Sim, who has been with the bank for 30 years, said.
A similar case last year was intercepted by Wu Qi, a remittance officer at Zhongguo Remittance.
Speaking with Yahoo News Singapore, the 36-year-old detailed how the victim, a woman in her 60s, had approached the company to transfer $32,000 for renovation work to an account in Guangzhou, China.
She had noted that the woman could not answer her questions and became flustered when further probed about her intentions. Wu also noted something else that was amiss: the victim was a first-time customer and had asked for express remittance services.
“I found this very weird, so I kept asking her about details such as the house renovation, how big the house was and whether she visited the place before,” she added in Mandarin.
She then raised the matter to her supervisor and the woman was later instructed to meet a Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) officer.
Zhongguo Remittance corporate service manager Lim Kar Yin, 31, was also awarded on Saturday. He noted that since the start of this year, the remittance firm has intercepted six to seven such scam cases, involving a total amount of over $100,000.
While scams typically involve amounts of $10,00 to $60,000, sums can go as low as $1,000 to $2,000 as of late, he added.
“The love scams are hard (to prevent). You tell the customer it’s a scam but they still insist it’s their own money (to deal with),” he said.