SINGAPORE — She is a cute, innocent-looking girl who chatted him up over dating app Badoo last month. He just completed his National Service in May, and is waiting to start school.
The girl said her name was Qiao Er, and she was 23 years old. He was 22 and, for the purposes of media reporting, wanted to be known only by his surname Wong.
They quickly got chatting on the Line chat application, where she sent voice messages whispering sweet nothings. She asked if he was thinking of her, what he was up to.
Sweet, young love? She would like him to think that, but there was something more sinister going on.
The woman — actually a crime syndicate — was after his money.
Mr Wong’s “relationship” with his online “friend” was the perfect setup for a so-called credit-for-sex scam. The scammers usually talk victims into buying them a purchase or gift card, such as an Alipay purchase card or iTunes card, in exchange for a meet-up, date, or sexual favours.
SHE OFFERED ‘SOMETHING SPECIAL’ IN MASSAGE
A week after they swiped right to each other, Qiao Er, who had mentioned that she is a foreigner studying at a university here, told Mr Wong that she was strapped for cash, and gives massages to get by.
Sympathetic, he agreed to get a massage, to which she said she could include “something special”, suggesting sex.
The scenario was described by Mr Wong to reporters on Thursday (Aug 22) in an interview set up by the police, who are keen to raise awareness on credit-for-sex scams.
The number of reported cases had dropped from 149 in January to March in 2017 to 61 in the same period in 2018, but rose dramatically to 168 in the first three months of this year.
SAVED BY POLICE
Mr Wong said they agreed to meet at 1.30pm on July 26 in Sembawang, and then she would take him to the place she was living.
But when he got to Sembawang, she phoned to tell him to transfer the S$100 via third-party payment service provider Alipay at the nearest AXS machine at Block 355 Sembawang Way.
She offered the pretext that she was evading police detection, noting that her services are technically illegal.
Luckily for Mr Wong, some police were conducting public outreach on credit-for-sex scams at the AXS machine he was told to use. Full-time Police National Serviceman Tham Keenan, 22, approached him just as he was about to transfer funds, figuring that he could be a victim.
Mr Wong was initially so engrossed on his phone that he dismissed a scam warning message that flashed on the screen after he selected Alipay, and didn’t spot scam alert posters that were pasted on the wall to the left and right of the machine.
As the policeman spoke to him, it sank in that he could be a victim of a scam.
His hunch was confirmed when the girl’s “manager” — a man with an angry voice — called him using an unknown number at about 2pm, threatening to follow him home and harass his family members if he did not transfer the money.
“I was scared for the first time,” Mr Wong told reporters, referring to the moment that he became certain that he was being scammed. “I went back to the AXS machine and told the police of the situation, and they told me not to be alarmed, noting that it is a commonly used method.”
Sure enough, the “manager” stopped calling after trying to call four or five times the next day.
“I know about such scams from newspapers, but didn’t think they could be linked to a dating app. Now I am more careful, and have uninstalled all my dating apps,” Mr Wong said. He was on Tinder, OkCupid and Badoo.
‘I WASN’T THINKING’, HE ADMITS
“Come to think about it, I didn’t have that much money, yet I foolishly accepted (the massage). I wasn’t thinking that much,” he added. He is working as a retail assistant as he waits to begin his pharmaceutical engineering course at the Singapore Institute of Technology.
The person or persons posing as Qiao Er are believed to be still at large.
Police sergeant Jacob Koh, 27, who was part of that day’s public engagement effort, said Mr Wong almost fell for the “mainstream method” credit-for-sex scammers use.
Typically, after asking for that initial S$100, the scammers would ask for more money under the pretext of a “registration fee” or “admin fee”, he added, noting that people had been known to part with thousands this way.
The scammers target mainly young, tech-savvy men, Sergeant Koh noted.
From January to March, about S$401,000 was lost to the 168 credit-for-sex scam cases reported in Singapore. For the whole of 2018, a total of some S$1.5 million was lost, with 533 cases reported.