'Their acting was so good, I believed them': How a foreign student was scammed of more than S$300,000
SINGAPORE: “Your number has been connected to a series of fake news and rumours,” said a stranger on the phone claiming to be an official from the Ministry of Health’s quarantine centre.
That call on Jul 27 this year set off a string of phone calls and text messages that would eventually dupe Mr Zhang, a Chinese national studying in Singapore, into believing there was a warrant of arrest out for him.
Over the course of three weeks, he was continuously contacted by people masquerading as law and police officers from Shanghai. As the scammers spun an elaborate web of lies, it became increasingly difficult for Mr Zhang to distinguish between the genuine and fake.
“The scammers video-called me wearing police attire and even their background looked like a police station,” Mr Zhang, who is in his early-20s, told reporters on Wednesday (Sep 1).
“They also sent many official documents to me, including a warrant for my arrest, which looked real because it had signatures and the organisations’ stamps,” he said, in mandarin.
Someone had even met him in person, near his house, to pass him what appeared to be an “official document”, he added.
“I was a bit suspicious at the beginning but because their acting was so good, I believed them."
Eventually, the scammers scared Mr Zhang into thinking that he would get arrested for crimes he did not commit, and convinced him that the only way to avoid arrest was to get money from his parents and transfer it to them.
He was instructed by the scammers not to talk to anyone - including his family - about the “ongoing case” as it could lead to a more severe sentence.
Instead, the scammers gave him a list of “reasons” to convince his parents into transferring the money to his bank account. This included telling his parents that the government now required foreign students to have a “guaranteed sum of money” in the country, in case they became infected with COVID-19 and needed medical treatment, he said.
He transferred money to the scammers on five separate occasions with the amount totalling more than S$300,000.
Things only came to stop on Aug 19 - more than three weeks after the first call - when his parents, who are based in China, felt something was off and notified Mr Zhang’s roommate. A police report was lodged, finally ending Mr Zhang's contact with the scammers.
The police told CNA that the case is currently under investigation and that they are trying to recover the money.
GROWING NUMBER OF SCAMS
Mr Zhang's case comes in the wake of an increasing number of China official impersonation scams in Singapore, which remains one of the top 10 scam types reported here.
There were 323 such impersonation scam cases reported in the first half of this year, up from 219 in the same period last year. The largest sum cheated this year was S$6.2 million, according to figures from the police.
Earlier this week, the police released crime statistics for the first half of this year which showed a 16 per cent increase in scams.
The police urged the public to take precautions when receiving unsolicited calls, especially from unknown parties, or those with the “+” prefix which originate overseas:
- Ignore such calls and the caller’s instructions, especially those who claim that they are overseas officials such as China Police, Interpol Police or other overseas law enforcement agencies
- For foreigners receiving calls from people claiming to be the police from their home country, call the embassy or High Commission to verify the claims of the caller
- Refrain from giving out personal information and bank details, whether on the website or to callers over the phone
- Do not make any funds transfer if the caller is of dubious identity
- For more information on scams, members of the public can visit scamalert.sg or call the anti-scam hotline at 1800 722 6688.