Our favourite Sim Lim Square criminal made headlines again when it was revealed that he now had a total of 28 charges against him, including a new charge of cheating. It’s a reminder of how we Singaporeans, despite our “clean” image, are no strangers to scams of one kind or another. And scams come in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re not careful you could lose a few dollars or your entire life savings.
So protect yourself by being more aware! Here are just 5 telltale signs that you’re about to get scammed or ripped off:
1. It Sounds Too Good To Be True
This is the number one Golden Rule when avoiding scam artists – “If something is too good to be true, it probably is”. Why is this the Golden Rule? Because it applies to all kinds of scams.
Let’s take the Jover Chew scandal. His shop claimed to sell new iPhone models are below market price, and so unsuspecting customers thought they were getting a great deal. Instead, they were forced to pay more than they expected for exorbitant “warranties” and phantom sales taxes. By the time they realised they had gotten scammed, it was too late and they had signed the contract.
2. Small Buy-In, Big Returns
Similar to the Golden Rule, except in this case, you don’t even get anything when you lose your money.
Most of these culprits are investment scams, preying on the desire of many Singaporeans to set aside money for their retirement.
Surprisingly, even as late as this year, we still hear of gold-related investment scams, where victims are told they’re putting in $1000 every month to invest in gold. They’re supposed to be satisfied by the promise of larger returns down the road, but suddenly, the company disappears without a trace, taking your hard-earned spending with them.
3. It Sounds Like A Game of Find The Next Sucker
There are many names for this scam – Ponzi scheme, pyramid scheme, most Multi-Level Marketing companies (yes, even the “legit” ones).
Here’s how some of these schemes might work: You’re promised the opportunity to make some money. All you need is to do is buy into an investment. It could be any kind of investment – stocks in an offshore company, golden ostrich eggs in Africa, music albums that are supposed to help evangelise, whatever. But if you want to see returns on your investment immediately, you need to contact your friends, your colleagues, your primary school classmates that you haven’t seen for two decades and bring them on board for this wonderful opportunity.
Sounds familiar? You just joined the game called “Find the Next Sucker”. You see, the money you “invested”? A fraction actually goes to the person who brought you in. And the “friends” you’ve just brought in? A fraction of their money is going into your pocket. Where does the rest of the money go? To the masterminds behind this crazy “investment” scam.
4. Qualifications That You Have No Way of Proving
Everyone knows about the Nigerian Prince scam. At least, I hope everyone knows about it. You receive an email saying that someone is about to inherit a big sum of money and he needs YOU (and ONLY you) to help him. You (and ONLY you) have to just send over $1000 to pay for the legal fees and bank charges and what not, so that he will be able to receive his money. In gratitude for inconveniencing you, he will give you back 20 times the amount.
Except you have no way of proving if this Nigerian prince is real (spoiler: he isn’t).
Another example was the “GEP tuition” scam that happened back in 2012. Kelvin Ong was a private tutor who claimed to be a former GEP student, ex-GEP teacher and so on and so forth. Based on these credentials, he dared to charge students up to $250 per lesson in order to help them qualify for the Gifted Education Programme.
Because parents had no way of proving his credentials, he got away with it until, ironically, he got featured in a newspaper report about costly tuition centres. Allegedly, he’s back to his old ways as of last year, just under a new name – Andy Wang.
5. Sob Stories
On a personal level, this one is the hardest for me to accept. Because it takes advantage of the kindness and goodness of many Singaporeans. Every now and then, I see a story being circulated on Facebook about an old auntie who begs for money, or some poor sod who lost his wallet, or a fake monk who begs for alms then asks for more.
In all these cases, the agenda is the same. Just give them a few dollars, and they’ll be able to find their way home or survive another day. It seems innocent and harmless enough, so you give them what they’re asking for. The next day, you encounter them again, and because they don’t recognise you, they launch into the same sob story about how they need money to live or get around.
What these con artists or professional beggars don’t realise is that their actions end up hardening the hearts of their victims. Should they encounter someone who is genuine need of help, would they still be as generous as before?
Have you been the victim of a scam before? What advice would you give to help people avoid getting scammed? We want to hear from you.
Personal finance tips delivered to your inbox!
Receive news, subscriber-exclusive promotions and guides on how to become smarter with money.
We promise never to spam you!