Single mum in SG who lost over RM307,000 to a job scam thought she could earn RM62,000 in a week

Lee made 40 transfers to different bank accounts in one week, losing more than S$89,000 to scammers. — DESMOND FOO/The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: Hoping to be financially independent, a single mother of two took up what seemed like a legitimate marketing job through a Facebook advertisement.

Instead, the 31-year-old lost about S$89,000 (RM307,169) – about 10 years’ worth of savings – in a week to scammers.

Breaking down while recounting her story to The Sunday Times, Lee (not her real name) said: “I don’t know why I didn’t think more before I took the job. Now, my hard-earned money that I saved over the years is mostly gone.”

She had been a stay-home mum since the birth of her first daughter, aged five. Her second daughter is four months old. After her divorce three years ago, she had relied mainly on her parents’ support and former husband’s maintenance payments to get by.

She started looking for work in July 2023, and saw an ad on Facebook claiming to be from a local company, Singsale, offering a marketing role.

Lee said: “It looked legitimate because there were more than a hundred comments on the Facebook post. I searched the company’s name online and found a proper website.”

She responded to the post via WhatsApp and spoke with a woman named “Ivy”, who said the job was simply to place online orders for products, including clothes and household items, to boost sales.

Lee was told that she would get all her money back after completing 60 orders, with a 20% commission.

Singsale is an ecommerce website owned by MySale Group, a subsidiary of British retail conglomerate Frasers Group. However, the transactions Lee carried out were on a separate platform.

Ivy let Lee use her own account first to experience the system. In two days, she used S$1,000 (RM3,451) in Ivy’s account to place orders and received S$1,200 (RM4,141).

Pleased with the payout, Ms Lee continued with the second set of orders, this time using her own account.

Someone claiming to be a staff member of the system gave her instructions on the orders and bank accounts to transfer payments to.

The price of each order ranged from around S$200 (RM690) to S$5,000 (RM17,256). After 40 orders, she had already put in S$89,796 (RM309,916) and was almost out of funds.

Thinking she could get around S$107,700 (RM371,709) in return – a profit of almost S$18,000 (RM62,124) in a week – Lee asked to withdraw her money and commission.

She was shocked to hear she had to pay a fee of around S$6,000 (RM20,708) to withdraw the money.

Lee said: “I told the staff member I had no more money, and I needed to feed two children. But they insisted the bank needed this ‘authentication fee’ as I was trying to withdraw a large amount of money.”

She complained to Ivy, who claimed to be a fellow victim and said her husband had lodged a police report. But Ivy was probably in on the ruse, Lee added.

“The staff member said their bank accounts were frozen as someone had made a police report, and asked for S$8,000 (RM27,610) to ‘unfreeze’ the accounts before I could get my money,” she recounted.

“I realised Ivy may have been from the same syndicate.”

Lee asked debt collector Fast Debt Recovery to help claw back her funds.

Its co-founder Lyn Ling told ST that their investigations revealed the bank accounts that Lee had transferred money to belonged to various individuals. The accounts were also tagged to phone numbers no longer in service.

She said these were hallmarks of a scam. The debt collector told Lee her chances of getting the money back were slim, and encouraged her to make a police report.

The police told ST that investigations are ongoing.

In September, the police warned of a job scam where scammers enticed victims by giving them commissions for completing simple surveys, before offering victims fake job opportunities.

Singsale was mentioned in screenshots of a conversation between a scammer and a victim.

Victims were told to transfer money to bank accounts provided by the scammers, like what Lee did.

The police said victims would only realise they had been scammed when they could not withdraw their commission, or when the scammers cut contact.

According to Singsale’s website, the company was launched here in 2014. It did not respond to ST’s queries by press time.

Lee said she was ashamed and had not told friends or family about her ordeal.

“I don’t want to tell my parents, as this is a result of my personal doing. I don’t want them to get worried,” she said, adding that her father provides her with around S$300 (RM1,035) a month.

“When I find a job, I won’t find it through online methods or Facebook again.”

Job scams were the most common scam type in the first half of 2023.

Most scam victims were young adults aged 20 to 39, and the scam they most commonly fell for was job scams, according to the police’s mid-year scam statistics.

In September, the police said at least 6,600 victims had fallen prey to job scams since January, with losses totalling at least S$96.8mil (RM334.16mil).

Scott Stiles, the head of fair hiring at Seek Asia, which operates employment platforms JobStreet and JobsDB, said scammers are becoming more sophisticated. So, jobseekers should be alert when seeing a legitimate-looking company website, and evaluate every aspect of the job offer.

Fake jobs often offer terms that seem too good to be true, such as high salaries that do not match the job. Other red flags include vague job roles, and recruitment messages that do not address the recipient by name.

And no legitimate company would ask employees for payment to start work, added Stiles.

Dr Reuben Ng, a behavioural scientist from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, said job scams are rising against the backdrop of a worsening economy, rising inflation and people losing jobs.

Encouraging scam victims to come forward, he said: “There’s really no shame in sharing about scams. In fact, it is a public and civic duty.

“If you report it, chances are the authorities and scientists, and researchers, will have a lot more data to prevent people from being scammed again.” – The Straits Times (Singapore)/Asia News Network

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