SINGAPORE — She fell victim to a man who claimed to be an American sailor after meeting him on Facebook, and let him use her bank account to launder criminal proceeds.
Even after she was interviewed and instructed by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) to cease contact with him, Ng Koon Lay set up a second Facebook account to keep in contact with her virtual lover, “Greg”.
Nearly a year later, at the behest of another scammer, “David”, who purported to be a 54-year-old oil trader from Switzerland, Ng opened two bank accounts and let him use it to receive criminal proceeds.
On Wednesday (12 August), Ng was jailed for 20 months after she pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, transferring criminal proceeds, and two charges of opening an account and handing over her ATM card to the scammer. Another 16 charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for sentencing.
Ng, 64, was formerly employed by the People’s Association from March 1982, working as an administrative staff in a Community Centre for 35 years until her dismissal in 10 April 2018.
She was terminated after CAD informed the People’s Association (PA) that she was charged in September 2017. Before her dismissal, Ng was a Constituency Manager with PA, drawing a monthly salary of about $5,000.
She then found work as a clerk before her court case concluded.
Vulnerable to love scams
Her lawyer, Tan Hee Joek, told the court that his client was herself a victim of love scams.
Ng is single and, for the past 40 years, had cared for a wheel-chair bound elder sister who suffered from schizophrenia, depression and incontinence, said Tan. Her sister is 71 years old now. Although she has five other siblings, Ng does not keep in contact with them much.
“As a lonely single woman who carried a burden of looking after her mentally and physically disabled sister, Mdm Ng was a perfect vulnerable victim that the ‘Greg’ and ‘David’ could easily exploit,” the lawyer told the court, submitting documents that showed how the scammers had used terms of endearment, such as “honey”, “darling” and “my love” to address Ng.
“With respect, the charges mounted currently against Mdm Ng ignore the facts that she was truly a victim of ‘Greg’ and ‘David’, who have through cloaks of anonymity, manipulated her through elaborate weaves of lies and seductive love into committing acts to further their criminal intentions.”
He added that Ng had paid a severe price as she had lost her livelihood, flat and savings.
She had transferred more than $160,000 to “Greg”, selling her three-room flat and borrowing from friend and relatives, and taking loans from credit cards to finance these transfers.
Met scammers through Facebook
Ng got to know both “Greg” and “David” in 2015 through Facebook.
She fell prey to “Greg’s” courtship and believed him when he claimed to want to deliver some documents and money in a luggage to her for safekeeping, so that they could marry and live in comfort. “Greg” claimed the luggage was detained in transit in Malaysia.
A company linked to the ruse, called Transworld, later contacted Ng and told her she needed to pay money to Malaysian Customs so that the luggage could be released to her. Ng even visited the company in Kuala Lumpur and was shown the luggage purportedly containing the money, according to Tan.
Believing the hoax, Ng sent money over. She later faced financial difficulty and asked “Greg” for a loan. In August 2016, “Greg” claimed that a friend could lend Ng $9,000 and told her to provide a bank account to receive $71,000 in funds, which she could take as part of her loan.
She took $9,000 and transferred the remaining $62,000 to another bank account as instructed.
Warned not to receive any more monies
Her dealings came to the attention of the CAD, which contacted her on 22 September 2016, asking her to attend an interview the next day. She was warned not to receive any more monies in her bank account as these were illegal funds. The $71,000 she received were proceeds from a victim of an email spoofing scam.
When Ng attended the interview, she was again warned not to use her bank account to receive funds from unknown persons and to stop contacting “Greg”. She also surrendered her Facebook account to the CAD.
Ignoring the warnings, Ng set up a second Facebook account in order to stay in touch with “Greg”. She asked “Greg” for a further loan and received US$88,000 (S$118,360) – which were also proceeds from an email spoofing scam victim. She then transferred $89,860 to another two bank accounts, while retaining $6,500 as a loan.
Despite her encounter with “Greg”, Ng fell prey to “David” who contacted her in 2017, to ask her to open bank accounts to receive funds. “David” claimed that the funds were to pay for his hospitalisation fees and business. In return, Ng was permitted to keep a portion of the funds for herself.
Ng opened two bank accounts in August 2017 at “David’s” behest. She then mailed the ATM cards and PINs to a Malaysian address provided by “David”.
Between 4 and 18 September 2017, four victims of internet love scams transferred a total of $47,050 into one of these accounts, while between 18 and 27 August 2017, a victim of an internet love scam transferred $174,750 into the other account.
Ng persisted in her conduct even though she was aware that “David” – who claimed to be in prison – was lying to her.
Promise of marriage
Currently only $2,600.74 remains in one of the counts.
Ng’s lawyer Tan said, “‘David’ impressed (Ng) by claiming that his occupation was in oil trading. He wooed Mdm Ng’s love and told her that he intended to reside in Singapore by buying a Singapore property and starting an oil trading business in Singapore. He wanted to marry her and settle down with her in Singapore. For this purpose, ‘David’ told her he will be bringing US$2 million from Switzerland and will marry her.”
“David” later alleged to have been detained by Singapore Customs for failing to declare a large sum of cash and cheated Ng into believing he needed to pay $280,000 to the authorities to secure his release.
In mitigation, Tan cited Ng’s health problems, such as her high cholesterol and severe diabetes, and the fact that she had gained only a small amount of money from her role.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jordon Li, however, pointed out that Ng had chosen to ignore warnings and continue to engage with the scammers. The prosecution sought 22 months’ jail.
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