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3 Popular Illegal Jobs Many Singaporeans Secretly Take On

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Joanne Poh

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Foreigners usually have this image of Singaporeans as this sterile bunch of robots who follow the rules and never take a step out of line. Well, these people have obviously never stepped out of the cocoons of their Marina Bay serviced apartments.

While Singapore might have the veneer of a law-abiding nation, an underbelly does exist, maybe not the darkest, dankest underbelly you could find but still, a legitimate one. And if you’re a true blue Singaporean, there’s a 90% chance you know someone who’s taken on one of the following three jobs—whether you realise it or not.

 

1. Loanshark runner

It’s no secret that there are tons of loansharks in Singapore. Just rock up to any uncle at one of our local casinos and he can point you in the right direction. Heck, there’ve been numerous news reports of couples who’ve turned to loansharks to pay for their weddings. Every now and then, you’ll find red paint splashed across the front door of one of your HDB neighbours, or the trademark “O$P$” sprayed across the walls.

Now, loansharks are important guys. Much like the typical corporate boss, most prefer to delegate the dirty work to their minions. In the world of loansharking, the guys who do most of the grunt work are loanshark runners.

If you think loansharking is the domain of potbellied men with an evil glint in their eyes, you’re wrong. Many loanshark runners are fresh-faced kids recruited in their early 20s with the promise of quick cash.

Often, these guys borrow from loansharks themselves, and when they can’t repay their loans they get recruited as runners in order to pay off their debts. Their chief duty is usually to vandalise the homes of debtors to scare them into paying back the money they owe. If you see a young guy queuing at the pork stall at the market every morning, you know what he’s up to.

 

2. Illegal landlord

These generally mild-mannered people look like they would flee at the sight of the other guys on this list, but behind closed doors they’re sitting on a pile of illegally-obtained cash all the same. Many people think the only type of illegal landlord is the guy who rents out his entire HDB flat before the 3 or 5 year minimum occupacy period is up.

But there’s a growing breed of even more entrepreneurial illegal landlords renting out entire HDB or condominium units from the owner, and then secretly subletting individual rooms to their own tenants.

For instance, let’s say you rent out 4-bedroom unit at a condo in the Little India area, say City Square Residences, which could cost about $4,000 to $5,000. Many of the residents there pay $1,200 to $1,400 for a single room, with the master bedroom going for prices as high at $3,000. An illegal landlord could therefore bring in over $7,000 renting out the rooms individually. In addition, such landlords often allow short-term leases of less than 6 months, which is technically illegal too.

I once visited the rental flat of a student who was in Singapore for her studies. She leased out a four room HDB unit directly from the owner and then rented out the various rooms to 8 Chinese students, cramming 2 to 3 in a room. She herself lived on the balcony. She would also rent out the balcony or living room area to short-term students who were still hunting for accommodation. The owner of the flat had no idea what was going on.

 

3. Bookie

During the World Cup or EPL season, many enterprising people come out of the woodwork to become bookies.

The best thing about this type of “business” is that you don’t really need to advertise your services (nor would you want to). Just pass the message to a few people and before you know it you’ll have a bunch of unknown friends-of-friends placing bets with you. Be sure to remind your friends never to reveal your identity.

The bookie’s job is easy as he can take bets without ever meeting the person face to face or taking their money. Just keep track of soccer scores online and when the results are out, it’s time to collect your money, usually by hounding your friends to pressure their friends to pay up.

Now obviously it’s easy for the bookie to “run away”, because nobody in their right mind would call the police to say they’ve been cheated by some guy with whom they placed an illegal bet—a guy whose name they don’t even know. Of course there is also a risk that the person who placed a bet may run away too, which is why these guys are usually good friends with the guys who are doing job #1.

Do you know anyone in any of the above trades? Leave us a discreet message in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.