SINGAPORE — Their jobs are to help customers transfer or remit money. But by refusing to do so in some cases, 42 keen-eyed individuals from 14 organisations like banks and remittance agencies managed to save their clients from being scammed of over S$1 million in total last year.
These 42 individuals were on Wednesday (Jan 11) recognised by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) for their effort and vigilance in preventing crime at the CAD’s first-ever Appreciation Awards Ceremony.
Among them is Ms Alyssa Low, an assistant service manager at DBS Bank’s HarbourFront branch. A customer had come in wanting to remit US$1,760 (S$2,530), but was evasive when a staff member asked for the purpose of the transfer. When the case was flagged to Ms Low, she did a background check and learnt that the receiving account was in a country known for being a high-risk destination for scams.
Ms Low then called the customer to tell her that she would not carry out the transaction and also advised her to contact the police as she could be a victim of a scam. Her suspicions proved to be true — not only was the customer being cheated, she had already lost US$42,000 in previous transactions with another scammer.
The customer, who only wanted to be known as Ms Tan, said she had been befriended on Facebook by a man who called himself Albert. Albert had claimed that he needed to pay tax amounting to US$543,000 to receive US$15 million from a contract, but did not have the money. He asked Ms Tan for a loan, promising he would pay her back double of what she borrowed.
Agreeing, the 67-year-old woman transferred the sum over 10 transactions, but Albert became uncontactable when she asked him to repay the money. She was later put in touch with another man, who claimed that a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation agent named Mr Smith would help her recover the money, but for a fee of US$1,760.
On Oct 3 last year, she went to DBS to make the transfer — but was saved by the intervention of Ms Low and her colleague. Said Ms Tan: “I really appreciate DBS (because they) trained their staff very well. She was very well trained, and she knew (how to handle) everything.”
In a speech at the ceremony, CAD director David Chew noted that there has been an alarming increase in Internet-enabled scams — in the first six months of last year, the number of cheating cases involving e-commerce rose 13.4 per cent.
Increasingly, many scams are also committed by criminals based overseas, making enforcement more challenging, and the police here are working with their foreign counterparts to take down criminal syndicates that target Singapore residents and to recover victims’ funds, where possible.
The CAD noted that some of the scams last year were foiled through the intervention of the public, including the DHL phone impersonation scams.
Ms Xiao Qianqin, a remittance officer from ZhongGuo Remittance, was among those who managed to foil a DHL phone scam.
In August last year, she had found her customer’s demeanour suspicious, but when she told the customer that she could be a scam victim, the customer refused to believe her.
Rather than turn her down, Ms Xiao told the customer that her transaction could take some time and asked her to return later. She then called the police for help.
As it turned out, the customer had previously remitted S$22,000 to the “Shanghai Police” over a so-called investigation into a parcel containing drugs. Ms Xiao’s intervention saved the customer from losing another S$10,000.
Recounting her experience at the ceremony on Wednesday, where she was one of the award recipients, Ms Xiao said she has been trained by her company to be alert for signs of such scams.
With continued public vigilance, “Singapore will be a safer home for everyone”, said Mr Chew.