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5 Street Scams in Singapore You Shouldn’t Be Fooled By

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Ryan Ong

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Lots of people laugh at scam victims – right up till they themselves pay $500 for a new “eye pad” online. Then they get whiny, and out come the excuses: “He caught me on a bad day” or “My school’s financial literacy programme was getting kicked in the crotch so hard loose change would fly out my pockets.” Which is admittedly true, if your school was as awesome as mine. But the point is, everyone’s vulnerable at times. And here’s how they might get you:

 

1. The Credit Card Swap

I’m surprised this scam even works. Not because you’d have to be dumb to fall for it. You’d be dumb to fall for any of these, because as established, we all have vulnerable moments. No, I’m just amazed how the scammers don’t cause the faux credit cards to fly right back from the gravitational pull of their massive testicles.

This scam involves a swap of your credit card with an expired or otherwise invalid one, which looks vaguely the same (and since credit card designs have the creative range of a disillusioned brick layer, those aren’t hard to find).

When your credit card’s returned to you, typically at a restaurant, it comes back wrapped in a receipt. You might only glimpse the edges of the card, which will look similar to yours.

On top of that, the server might distract you by making small talk, asking you to re-check a separate receipt, or flirting if you have no date.

A day or two later, you take out your credit card to use it and hey! This isn’t my card!

It’s someone’s expired old Visa, or some invalidated credit card that got fished out of the mail. By then, the person with your actual card may have run up a tab of a few thousand dollars.

Oh, and good luck disputing that with the bank. You’ll have a hard time proving you weren’t negligent.

 

How to Avoid It:

Always unwrap the card and check it.

 

2. The Rental Scam

This is an old scam, but it still works. The primary targets are foreign workers or recent immigrants – anyone who might need to rent a place on short notice.

The scammer looks up some apartments for rent, on Craigslist or whatever. Once they find a viable target, they start offering to rent it to as many people as possible (without the landlord or property agent’s knowledge).

They’ll even take tenants down to see the place. If they don’t own the unit, they’ll make stupid excuses as to why you can only see the place only from the outside. “It’s under renovation,” “The previous tenant is still in and likes privacy,” or “It’s, uh, against my religion.” (I can’t lie straight in bed. But you get the idea.)

The scammer then collects deposits from fraudulent tenancy agreements, effectively renting the same place to four or five tenants at once.

When the “tenants” try to move in, they’re stopped by the legitimate property owner or agent, who has no idea who these victims are.

By then, the scammer will be sipping Mojitos in Bali.

 

How to Avoid It:

Always demand to see papers proving that the seller is a legitimate property agent, or the owner of the property. You should also ask for the approval letter from HDB, it it’s a flat.

 

3. Excess Order Scam

The oldest – and mostly obsolete – version of this is the “white van scam”. It used to involve the scammers selling surplus speakers. But these days, it’s used with almost any kind of product. The basic idea is that the scammers are suppliers, they’ve shipped too much of something, and want to offload it for cheap.

Potential victims are usually approached in parking lots, where the scammers will have a van or truck filled with whatever junk they’re pushing. Printers, desktops, and self-assembled furniture are favourites – these are things you can’t check on the spot.

When they see you looking, they’ll approach you with a problem: They work for someone who supplies item X (whatever it is), and they’ve brought too much of it. It’s the client’s fault – he’s being difficult, and insists he didn’t order that many.

Either way, the scammers workers are in trouble. They don’t want to tell their boss, because they’ll get fired for this. And they don’t want to give it to the client for free, because they hate that jerk.

So how about you just take the surplus? Yeah, just dump it in your car. It’s worth a few thousand dollars. They’ll even help you move the things.

And in return, maybe you can give them a bit of money for their trouble. Like $100, or $200. After all, they’ve been so nice to you and given you a big windfall.

When you get back home, you’ll unpack all the junk and discover that it’s, well, junk. You probably have a CPU casing filled with rocks, or a “study desk” that’s just random parts from hacked up rocking chairs.

 

How to Avoid It:

There is no purchase you make in a parking lot that you will not regret.

 

4. Business Registration / Award Scams

Some images just make us think ” government”. Lion heads, the national crest, Imperial stormtroopers, etc.

Some scammers use a select mix of this imagery (the lion head is a hot favourite) on their stationery and letterhead. Their company logos also have shapes and colours that are vaguely similar to a government agency.

Once they’ve attained the optimum degree of confusion, they mail letters to small businesses with two main requests:

  • To sign up on a “Singapore Business Registry”, or some similarly official sounding entity
  • To accept an award for business innovation, best brand of 2014, or some other accolade

What the letters seldom state is that they’re private business entities, that are charging you money to register your company on an obscure site. Or to “win” an award no one cares about.

They may also offer to mention your company in an award journal. Said journal will cost several hundred dollars, be a one-off publication, and attract less readership than a newspaper that’s been used to wipe your pet’s ass.

 

How to Avoid It:

Don’t assume it’s from the government on looks alone. Check properly. And as a general rule, the only awards that matter are the ones you don’t have to buy.

 

5. Phone Kidnap Variant

The “phone kidnap” scam is another golden oldie. Someone gets a message from a Telco, telling him to turn off his phone for one hour during network upgrading.

During that hour, his family members are called, and they’re told he’s kidnapped. Since they can’t get through to him, they panic and send ransom money.

This scam isn’t too popular anymore, because (1) the family members are almost guaranteed to call the police, whatever the scammer says, (2) the legal penalties are harsher, and (3) the large ransom sums are hard for the victims to get on short notice.

So the current variant is not to say anyone’s been kidnapped. Instead, after your phone’s turned off, they’ll try calling your friends (if they mined enough data to know who your family is, they probably know who your friends are. Besides, there’s Facebook.).

They’ll text your friends that you are overseas, and just got robbed. That’s why you have this new cellphone number. And it would help if they could just wire you a small amount of cash, like $100 – $150, just to help. You’ll pay when you get back.

The amount’s smaller than a ransom, but it’s sent to maybe 20 friends at once. Most will respond quite quickly, since the amount is small. Also, you probably won’t have a million calls from friends immediately after you turn your phone on – it could be weeks before you even realise what’s happened.

 

How to Avoid It:

Don’t turn off your phone because you got a message about it.

And if you get a text from a “friend in need”, ask about something only that friend would know (e.g. “Is this like the time you climbed into the panda enclosure and punched it in the nose?”)

If you get strange or evasive responses, call your friend’s family or workplace. Alternatively, wait a while before trying to call your friend again.

 

Ever been scammed before? Comment and tell us about it!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.