Monday, August 1, 2011

More fall victim to phone kidnap scams

More fall victim to phone kidnap scams
by Tanya Fong
SINGAPORE - Phone kidnap scams, which first surfaced here in 2007, have spiked sharply in recent years. 

According to the police, the number of such scams - where victims receive calls from strangers demanding ransom for their next-of-kin or friend - being successfully pulled off jumped from 3 cases in the first five months of last year, to 25 cases in the same period this year. 

Correspondingly, the total amount of money taken from the victims increased five-fold, from S$24,000 to S$133,000. 

Between January and May, the police received a total of 307 reports from the public about such scams.

The rise could be linked to the growing popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook. 

Said a police spokesman: "Members of the public should be careful in sharing personal information about themselves and their loved ones, especially on social media websites where their information can be easily gleaned by scammers."

The police are working with banks and remittance centres, schools and crime prevention ambassadors to help educate the public. 

It has circulated to banks and remittance centres a checklist which includes looking out for customers who may seem stressed when withdrawing and sending money and to warn them of such scams.

Singapore is not the only country hit by such scams, with incidents reported in Africa, the Philippines, the United States and China. 

Last February, the police in China arrested 17 suspects in Shenzhen as part of a major dragnet targeted at phone kidnap scams.

In Singapore, the modus operandi involves conmen calling their victims at home via private or unknown numbers. 

They then ask for the victims' mobile phone numbers and then call them on their number.

Typically, the conmen instruct the victims not to hang up until the "ransom money" has been transferred to their account. 

After the money has been paid, the conmen instruct victims to go to another location to wait while the conman checks that the money is transferred, or to fetch the "hostage".


One of the victims, sales manager Susan Tan, 50, recalled her three-hour ordeal in December last year when she picked up her home phone and heard a shriek: "Mummy, save me! Someone is beating me and I am bleeding profusely!" 

Madam Tan said a man came on the line and claimed that her son was in his hands and he would kill him if she did not cooperate. 

The man hung up abruptly after Mdm Tan gave him her mobile phone number. He called her mobile phone almost immediately. 

Mdm Tan told Today: "He told me to not to call the police and not to tell anyone. 

"He kept saying if I did not listen to his instructions and if I hung up, he would harm my son." 

The man demanded S$30,000 in ransom and when she said she did not have that much money, he asked her how much she had. 

"I told him I only had S$10,000." 

The man then asked her where the nearest bank was to where she lives and instructed her to go to the bank to withdraw the money. 

He gave her a Chinese name, the bank and account number to remit the money to. Mdm Tan did as she was told.

"When I was at the bank, the bank teller actually asked me where I was remitting the money to. When I told her to a relative in Guangzhou, China, she told me to be careful as there were several scams reported. I don't know why I still transferred the money. I was just so afraid that he will harm my son," she said.

After she sent the money, she told the man that she wanted to hear her son's voice. After hearing a voice that did not sound like her son's, Mdm Tan feared the worst and cried, she recalled. 

It was only then that she called her 21-year-old son - who was studying in the United Kingdom - to find him alive and well.

"I feel so ashamed and haven't told anyone, not even my husband. I was just so frightened and helpless," said Mdm Tan.

Another victim, administrative assistant Christina Lim, 48, received a call in her office. She was told that her 16-year-old son had been kidnapped.

She was then asked to go to a remittance house at Pearl's Centre in Chinatown. 

After transferring S$2,000, Mdm Lim was asked by the caller to go to a HDB block in Toa Payoh to wait for her son. She was also instructed to tear and throw away the remittance docket. 

Mdm Lim told Today that she was so frightened that she refused to pick up any call - including calls from her colleagues and husband who were worried about her after she left office abruptly. After half an hour spent waiting in vain, she finally picked up a call from her husband who told her that their son was safe and sound.

Said Mdm Lim: "I was in a daze. I left my office just like that and even met my sister to take the money from her. She too, was so frightened that she did not call the police."

What you should do if you get a "kidnap" call
by SOURCE: Singapore Police Force website
- Remain calm and contact your loved-one immediately to confirm his safety. Should repeated attempts at contacting him fail, seek assistance from the police immediately.

- Attempt to verify the authenticity of the caller's claim by asking him questions to verify the identity of the purportedly kidnapped victim, for instance, the number of family members staying together or whether there are pets in the house. 

- Even if you have confirmed that your loved-one is safe, call the police immediately at 999 to report the case. 

- Do not reveal your particulars to the caller.

- Do not transfer any money via remittance agencies, banks or any other means to the caller.