More migrant workers and maids falling victim to scams
When Sam (not his real name), a migrant worker, accepted a job offer on June 20 last year, all he wanted was to earn more money quickly, so that he could build a bigger and more comfortable home for his family in Bangladesh.
The 45-year-old, who last saw his loved ones in August 2019, said: "I think everyone has plans to build their own house. It is my plan to build a nice house for my family."
Two days later, Sam, who works as a production coordinator in a warehouse here, lost more than $11,000, which is almost equivalent to his salary for a year, to a job scam.
He told The Straits Times that he responded to a WhatsApp message from a foreign number which informed him that he could earn a commission by completing 60 orders on an online portal. However, he had to deposit some money into a bank account first.
Sam put in $135 on June 21 and received $404 on the same day.
The next day, he made eight transactions amounting to $11,730, but was unable to retrieve his money later because he could not complete the orders.
That was when he realised that he had fallen for a scam and made a police report on the same day. The police confirmed that a report was lodged and are investigating.
Last year, there were 3,181 migrant workers who were victims of scams, up from 1,965 in 2020, said the police.
About 357 domestic workers were scammed last year, an increase from the 216 in 2020.
As at December last year, there were 246,300 migrant domestic workers in Singapore and 318,400 work permit holders in the construction, marine and process sectors, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The police said they work closely with MOM and non-profit organisations to share the latest crime trends and anti-scam advisories with workers.
S11 Dormitories, which has about 13,000 occupants across its two facilities in Punggol and Changi, said it is working with the police to organise talks.
A spokesman said the upcoming talks will be conducted "in our dormitories by officers who will explain the different types of scams migrant workers may be susceptible to".
Mr Ethan Guo, general manager of Transient Workers Count Too, said migrant workers are generally affected more by employment scams.
"One needs to only go on Facebook to look at the many job ads that target migrant workers. They look very similar to posts by registered employment agents and therefore, to an untrained eye, impossible to tell one apart from another," he added.
A spokesman for the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) said it saw a high number of SMS loan scams among domestic workers last year. The messages offer loans with a low administrative charge.
Fast said migrant domestic workers are more susceptible to such scams as the platform that they take place on is a mobile phone, and those who are desperate for cash would tend to respond due to the convenience of securing the supposed loan.
It added that the pandemic caused some family members of these workers to lose their income, increasing the need for the workers to support their families. As such, many of them take up loans.
Typically, these scams require victims to make a deposit before the loan can be disbursed.
Phishing scams are also a cause for concern.
Amy (not her real name), 40, a domestic worker from Myanmar, became a victim on Feb 20, 2020, when she received a call through messaging application Viber.
She spoke to a man who claimed to be a bank staff and wanted to "update" her ATM card. She gave details, such as its personal identification number.
After three hours on the phone, Amy sensed something was amiss and hung up. She went to an ATM near her flat in Bedok Reservoir and found that about $2,600 had been transferred from her bank account.
"I only had $45 left in my account, my money is gone," she said.
Amy went to the bank the next day and was able to retrieve $1,700. The police confirmed a report was lodged and are investigating.
She said: "This whole (experience) made me very scared. The other day I received a call from someone with a Ministry of Manpower photo... But I never answer (now) if it's a number I don't know."
Phishing, job and e-commerce scams most common types targeting migrant workers
Scam cases are becoming more common among migrant workers, with phishing, job and e-commerce scams the top three variants they encountered last year.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the police added that for migrant domestic workers, the top three types of scams last year were phishing, Internet love and loan scams.
Ms Flora Sha, who manages United Channel maid agency, said there were a dozen maids in her firm who fell victim to loan scams last year.
"It's definitely worrying, since scams can jeopardise their rice bowls while they are working in Singapore and could affect employers as well. In some cases, scammers harass the employer for money, even visiting their homes," she added.
"My advice is for maids to ask their employer or employment agency for help if they encounter a scam. But in some cases, maids know it's a scam, but they are desperate for cash."
Ms Ruchi Trivedi, who is one of the lead volunteers at non-profit organisation ItsRainingRaincoats, said it is reminding migrant workers not to share their personal information, such as bank details and passwords, with anyone.
She added that they should not click on web links that they do not recognise and always ask an authority or their supervisors if they are unsure.