By Teh Joo Lin
THE woman walked into a Western Union outlet and started filling up a remittance form to wire $4,000 to China.
She seemed to be receiving a stream of non-stop instructions on her mobile phone.
Warning bells rang for the Western Union staff: It looked like a phone scammer was about to claim yet another victim.
Customer service executive Jane Xu, swinging into action, gently
quizzed the woman in her 40s. But she brushed Ms Xu off curtly, saying: 'This is my business.'
The woman was insistent on sending the money. Staff later found
out she had been led to believe she had struck a big lottery prize but
had to wire the $4,000 first.
Back-up was now needed. Colleagues joined Ms Xu, 45, in showing the woman police advisories and counter notices about phone scams. The assistant vice-president talked to her too.
It took them half an hour. But their doggedness paid off when
she came round. Not so lucky were 378 people who lost a total of $4.6 million to phone scammers last year.
At yesterday's annual crime briefing, police chief of staff
Senior Assistant Commissioner Soh Wai Wah said: 'The best way to fight this crime is to stop it before any money gets out of the country.'
This was why public awareness is key and the police are also working with remittance houses on the matter.
Staff at Western Union - situated in 65 locations here - take
their 'scam alert' seriously, knowing they may be the last line of
Western Union's assistant vice-president Patricia Chua said
that between July and September last year, staff stopped about five to seven transactions daily. This is now down to about one or two daily.
The staff's antennae go up when such phone-in-ear customers walk in to remit money to places like China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
To help potential victims come round, notices have been put up at all the outlets.
Ms Chua said when victims are especially resistant, it can take up to four hours to make them come to their senses.
Just yesterday, she thought she had dissuaded a 21-year-man from wiring $1,686 to a Chinese account.
But the lottery 'winner' came back later. Western Union declined the transaction.
'When it becomes clear the customer is potentially sending money
to a fraudster, our staff are empowered to decline the transaction and advise him to call the police for advice,' Mr Sunil Balagopal, its
regional vice-president said.
[Comment: Hope springs eternal for the hopeless. Kudos to Western Union and Maybank (story below).]
Jan 21, 2008
Phone scams claim one victim a day in 2007
The perpetrators netted $4.6 million from the gullible, but overall crime rates fell to third lowest in a decade
By Khushwant Singh
A WOMAN remitting money abroad at the Maybank branch in Jurong East, was so anxious, staff became concerned.
Upon gentle probing, she revealed that she had received a call that her loved one had been kidnapped. The story was all too familiar to the alert staff, who figured the woman was a victim of a phone scam.
As it turned out, her family member was alive and well. While she was saved, 378 others were not so lucky.
The kidnap scam snared four victims while the rest mostly fell prey to conmen promising lottery or lucky draw prizes.
With an average of more than one person cheated every day, such commercial crimes has become an area of concern for the police.
These were among the few blips in the improved crime situation which registered 718 less cases. Reports of crime fell from 33,263 in 2006 to 32,545 cases last year, with most categories of crime showing a decrease.
Based on 100,000 of the population, it was the third-lowest in a decade. Housebreaking and crimes against persons, such as causing hurt, murder, rioting, rape and outrage of modesty dipped to 4,084 cases.
There were 18 murders last year, one up from the previous year, and all, but one, were solved.
Releasing the annual crime figures on Monday, Senior Assistant Commissioner Soh Wai Wah also identified snatch theft and robbery involving elderly victims - number of cases rose from 170 to 241 - and theft of metal items as other areas of concern.
There were 1,291 reports of metal theft, up 204 cases from the 1,087 in 2006.
The total value of metal items stolen was more than $6 million, against $4 million in 2006.
Commercial crime was up by 10 per cent and SAC Soh attributed the increase to phone scams. He said: 'Such phone scams, practically unheard of in 2006, claimed 378 victims who lost $4.6 million last year.'
Several variations have emerged. In lottery and lucky draw scams, victims were told to pay an advance fee into overseas accounts before they could claim their prizes. This ruse claimed 325 victims, who lost between $200 and $350,000 each.
By August, the phone scams had evolved and mystery callers would threaten victims' family members with hurt if a ransom was not paid. In all, four victims were cheated of about $80,000.
The next month, conmen, masquerading as police or court officers, would advise victims to remit money so as to close investigations into crimes they never committed in the first place. The 49 victims conned in this way lost more than $500,000.
Police have arrested three men - two Chinese nationals and a Taiwanese - aged between 35 and 40 in connection with the kidnap hoax.
To combat phone scams and crimes against the elderly, police have involved community groups so increase public awareness.
Noting that four out of 10 crimes have been solved with public assistance, SAC Soh said: 'The reduction in crime been due to police and community partnership that has been forged over the years. We will continue to involve the community by seeking their imputs to meet the safety and security challenges of the future and enlsiting their help to reach out to those amongst us who are more vulnerable to crime.'