A 45-year-old man has been arrested for cheating after he allegedly accepted payment for bogus hotel bookings.
Multiple victims had come across the man's purported advertisement for hotel bookings on e-commerce platform Carousell and proceeded to liaise with him via WhatsApp. However, they failed to have their hotel bookings confirmed after making payment via bank transfers and PayNow.
The police said they received multiple reports this month (December) from victims about the alleged scam. Through investigations, officers from Woodlands Police Division established the man's identity and arrested him on Wednesday (Dec 15).
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the man was allegedly involved in at least 29 similar cases with total reported losses amounting to $30,000," the police added.
The man will be charged in court on Friday with cheating, which carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.
Several of the man's victims came forward to Stomp to share their experiences.
Stomp contributor J said he managed to link up with 29 others who had also fallen prey to the man's hotel booking scam.
All 30 parties, who are in a WhatsApp group, made police reports from Dec 11 to 17.
Relating his experience, Stomp contributor J said: "My wife made payment of $1,300 via PayNow on Dec 6 on my behalf for a night's stay in an Ocean Suite on Dec 11.
"The man went MIA on the morning of Dec 11. We bombarded his phone number with calls and WhatsApp messages but to no avail.
"Not only did he cheat our money, he also toyed with our… feelings as we had already told our relatives about the trip and packed our kids' luggage.
"This guy is extremely scheming as he tricked us into believing him by sending us good reviews from other customers and followed up promptly with us after our payment.
"It turns out he received those good reviews by tricking others into making payment and then refunding them the full amount. He told them he had Covid-19 and was hence unable to fulfil the bookings.
"Fortunately, we were able to contact one of the users who had reviewed him previously and she managed to link us up with other victims. Together, we discovered that his ultimate scheme was to trick all of us in one week and disappear on Dec 11."
Each of the 30 victims lost between $400 and $2,600.
So how did the man manage to pull off his scam on so many victims?
Much can be inferred from the way he converses with his victims, as seen in screenshots that were shared with Stomp.
Here are some of his tactics:
1. Offering a deal that's too good to miss
Here, the man applies the modus operandi of most scammers: Sharing what seems to be an extremely good deal you can't pass up on.
In some instances, he offers to show his victims proof of other users paying an even higher amount, allowing them to think they are getting a bargain. Too good to be missed? More like too good to be true.
2. Applying pressure
The man applies pressure on his victims to confirm their bookings and make payment quickly by telling them that availability is running low. He also gives the impression that there are many interested parties. The supposed popularity of the deal makes it seem even more legitimate.
3. Acting like a real friend
By sharing a name and phone number, the man comes across as a real and traceable person who's open to providing personal info about himself. He also continues to liaise with his victims on WhatsApp, at times making jokes and offering deals like a proper friend would.
4. Eliminating doubts and suspicions
Whenever anyone raises doubts, the man is not offended by their questions. Instead, he is sympathetic and acts like he understands their predicament.
He would reassure his victims in a number of ways, such as claiming that he has been "doing this for years" and saying he would definitely be meeting them in person to fulfil the hotel booking.
To further dispel suspicion, the man would also send victims screenshots of previous transactions he made with other parties, such as those showing him accepting pricier bookings and providing refunds for unfulfilled deals. "Which scammer refunds money?" he can be seen trying to convince one victim.
5. Acceding to requests
Have a special request for your hotel stay? From requiring an extra bed to wanting a cake, the man sounds more than willing to help inform the hotel on his victims' behalf.
6. Keeping it real
However, note that the man does not promise you the skies. He appears to be helpful yet realistic by telling his victims he would try his best. This keeps his victims hopeful and with manageable expectations.