betty August 29, 2022

SINGAPORE – He was told over the phone by someone claiming to be a court official that he was involved in illegal money laundering activities, and while John (not his real name) knew he had done nothing wrong, fear set in.

After a series of phone calls with the “court official” as well as “police officers” and even an “auditor” claiming to be from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the 58-year-old, who works in financial services, grew so worried he gave up personal information, including his bank account details.

Using his banking credentials, the scammers transferred $93,000 out of his account, and it would have been much more if not for a member of the DBS anti-scam team, who flagged the initial transaction as suspicious.

John, who is married with two children in their 20s, had fallen victim to a government official impersonation scam.

In response to The Straits Times’ queries, the police said 996 government official impersonation scam cases were reported in the first half of this year. Victims of such scams were cheated of $25.2 million.

Recalling the incident in June, John said last Friday (Aug 26): “The scammers had Singaporean accents. It also seemed like they were authority figures I could trust. It was all very convincing.”

He added: “The ‘court official’ first accused me of money laundering activities that were carried out through a company which I set up. When I told him I had no knowledge of such activities, he transferred me to a ‘police officer’ who said he needed my information.”

Hoping to the resolve the matter quickly, John, who has lived in Singapore for 16 years, took a photo of his employment pass card and sent it to the scammer.

“He then sent me a very official-looking court document for the offences I’d been accused of and said due the seriousness of the offences, the police would be at my home that evening to arrest me,” John said.

“I was extremely fearful. There was also this time pressure. If I didn’t get my name cleared by then, I was going to spend an evening in a jail cell.”

John said the scammers used the tactic of confusion, transferring him to different authority figures, including a court official, a junior police officer, a senior police inspector and a financial auditor who claimed to be from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

He eventually handed over his DBS banking credentials to the scammers for inspection.

“I was told not to speak to anyone about this – not my employer, not my wife. Otherwise it would jeopardise the legitimacy of the financial review. They said not to talk to the police or any banks about this as they suspected that the criminals involved in the money laundering activities were employees of the bank.

“At that point I was even wondering if I was being followed or watched, so I took their instructions very seriously,” said John.

The scammers used his banking credentials to transfer $93,000 from his account and attempted a second transfer of $97,800.