Divorcée who held onto funds from scam had been 'looking for love', not fraud: lawyer

Christina Cheong Yoke Lin, 63, had met a scammer named “Collins” 2017 but broke off contact with him after $50,000 was transferred into her bank account by a scam victim. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

SINGAPORE — A woman who held on to the illicit funds obtained from a scam had only been looking for love when she met the scammer who tried using her as a money mule, the court heard on Tuesday (16 July).

Christina Cheong Yoke Lin, 63, had met a scammer named “Collins” 2017. However, she broke off contact with him after $50,000 was transferred into her bank account by a scam victim.

The part-time English teacher later lost the money to another two scams.

"She didn't go looking for fraud. She went looking for love, but she found a fraudster," said Cheong’s lawyer, Aaron Lee, during her sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

Noting that Cheong, a divorcée, suffers from major depressive disorder and had encountered at least four scams while seeking companionship online, he sought a mandatory treatment order (MTO) in lieu of jail time.

An Institute of Mental Health report also found that Cheong’s condition had contributed to her commission of the offences, and recommended an 18-month MTO for her.

Accused was ‘playing along’

Deputy Public Prosecutor Leong Wing Tuck objected to the defence’s call for an MTO and said that deterrence took precedence in this case. Cheong had manipulated the situation to her advantage, said Leong.

Cheong had earlier admitted to one count of misappropriating the money that had been transferred to her account. Another count of possessing property which she believed to be the benefits from criminal conduct will be taken into consideration for her eventual sentence.

Referring to Cheong's exchanges with Collins leading up to the funds being deposited into her account, DPP Leong described her as "an individual who was playing along, manipulating the situation as much as the other party".

"She was at the steering wheel, she knew where this was leading," added Leong.

Citing a psychiatric report produced in December last year, the prosecution added that Cheong's major depressive disorder was only of a mild severity and had not affected her work as a teacher.

Lee disputed Leong’s “dramatisation” of Cheong, noting that her condition had developed over two years and even saw her having suicidal thoughts.

Embroiled in various scams

Cheong first met a person known as “Collins” through the Badoo dating app in August 2017.

She lied to Collins that her handbag had been snatched by a “thief on a bike” and that she had lost money. She then asked Collins for help in paying her rent.

Collins then suggested that Cheong let her bank account be used by his boss’ associates to receive money. Cheong would get to keep $500 but would have to withdraw the rest of the funds and deliver the money to someone in Johor.

Although she was suspicious of the arrangement, Cheong still went ahead with it.

On 17 August that year, $50,030 was transferred into Cheong’s bank account by a 54-year-old Singaporean female victim of a love scam.

Collins then told Cheong to withdraw the money – minus the bank’s $30 fee – and to hand it over to someone else. He also warned Cheong not to use an ATM to withdraw the sum, which again raised her suspicions.

After Cheong failed to get a clear answer about the legality of the money in her account, she decided to keep it for herself. She began ignoring Collins’ phone calls and made excuses when the latter asked her to start withdrawing the money.

On 27 August, Cheong fell out with Collins and he accused her of being a thief. By that time, Cheong had already spent some of the funds.

Cheong was arrested after the 54-year-old love scam victim made a police report the following month. She has since returned the full sum to the victim.

On 21 August 2017, Cheong transferred $31,000 to a Malaysian bank account to help a man named “Mark Anthony”, whom Cheong was also in love with. He claimed he had been detained by the Malaysian authorities and needed the funds to ensure his release.

She also transferred $18,000 to a few foreign bank accounts supposedly belonging to another person named “Chong Lee”, who had promised her $800,000 in return for her help. This turned out to be an inheritance scam.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong adjourned the case to 22 August for sentencing.

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Woman who cheated scammer of $50,000 then lost money to other scams pleads guilty