Why & how loansharks might be using food delivery platforms to harass people in S'pore

How does the misuse of food delivery platforms happen? And why is this happening?

Tanya Ong | June 05, 2021, 07:09 PM

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You may have noticed a rather-curious phenomenon being reported in the news these days: Large food delivery orders (or multiple orders) being sent to a particular address, only for the delivery staff to find out that the person at the address didn't place the order.

Being sent food that they did not order

Some cases have been picked up by the media this year, although an earlier case was reported in April 2020, involving a similar case of harassment (a family in Yishun was allegedly sent S$800 worth of food they didn't order).

If this is the first time you're hearing about this, here are some cases from this year:

- "Prank orders" involving at least 12 delivery riders in Joo Seng, in Feb

- At least four riders allegedly sent to a Bedok Reservoir flat in March,

- An Yishun flat being a constant target of "food delivery pranks" in April, and

- S$1,000 worth of food allegedly sent to Fernvale unit in June

What's going on, you ask?

Of course, it is entirely possible that extremely mischievous friends are behind this task, but in many instances, the mystery senders are alleged to be unlicensed moneylenders trying to harass people into paying up.

In the case of the Yishun family, they had claimed that nobody at their registered address had borrowed money from unlicensed moneylenders.

Unlicensed moneylending in Singapore

There are both legal and illegal modes of retrieving funds owed. You could, for instance, approach legal debt collection agencies in Singapore (the Singapore Debt Collection Service (SDCDS) and Unity 81, are some examples).

There are also unlicensed moneylenders who have "loanshark runners" who help chase for the return of funds, usually borrowed via illegal means. These moneylenders are not registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), and have far less stringent rules when it comes to lending money.

Typically, borrowers have to provide details such as their IC, address and phone number.

And we have all heard of what happens whey they don't pay up on time. These loansharks are also known for their illegal harassment tactics — what immediately comes to mind are pig heads, spray paint and in some instances, violence.

Change in harassment tactics

In these cases of large orders, it does seem like the mode of harassment might have changed slightly. But it is still a form of harassment, nonetheless.

Vivi, a senior debt collection officer who has been with SDCS for five years, stressed that such illegal methods are a "crude way of making people pay" and are not encouraged.

She also explained that loansharks often choose such harassment tactics that deliberately frighten people, hence nudging them to pay up in a bid to make the problem go away.

Win, a spokesperson from Unity 81, another licensed debt collection service in Singapore, added: “Loansharks just want to see them (debtors) being harassed.”

In the case of using food delivery riders, whose "time is money", there's the added stress of having to turn these people away without payment.

So why the specific method of sending large food delivery orders?

While loansharks have made use of vandalism or destruction of property previously, Win pointed out that such conventional methods tend to be "very costly".

Sending large food orders, without paying for it, comes at very little added cost to their operations, for instance.

In addition, the food delivery option may also be "safer" during such Covid-19 times and possibly less risky since it's a "remote type of reminder", Vivi explained.

Basically, working-from-home as there is a higher risk of getting caught when carrying out such acts in person.

Food delivery platforms affected

Many of the incidents in the spotlight this year have involved foodpanda riders, and a foodpanda spokesperson told Mothership that they have a blacklisting process where accounts will be blocked once it is deemed as fraudulent.

When we asked Grab if there have encountered instances where large GrabFood orders were made to harass people, they said:

"Grab has zero tolerance for such harassment behaviour. Users who are found to be abusing our platform for such acts will be permanently banned."

Grab did not mention if such users have been banned before.

Deliveroo confirmed that they have not received any similar instances of "misuse of the platform".

A spokesperson explained that they do not offer a cash on delivery payment option, hence, their riders are "protected from the risk of prank orders".

How does the process go?

For most cases, it seems like the harassment process is such:

  • Sender places a huge order or multiple orders, and inputs the address they wish to send it to
  • "Cash" payment option is selected
  • Riders show up at the location only to find out that the addressee did not place the order
  • Sender cannot be reached

What happens next?

According to a foodpanda spokesperson, in the event that riders are unable to reach the person at the address or the sender, they are advised to contact rider support to provide an update. The customer service team will then attempt to reach the sender via the number provided.

Should there still be no response, the order will be disposed of. They will also make a police report if they find that senders are using the platform for fraudulent purposes.

Merchants and riders will still be paid for orders that are delivered.

How do they set up a new account?

Even if the harassers have an existing account, it is reasonable to assume that the harassers will likely set up an entirely new account just for this purpose.

For both Grab and foodpanda, it is necessary to have a phone number tagged to the account when setting up a new account.

A foodpanda spokesperson said that this email and number used cannot be linked to existing accounts. A One-Time-Password (OTP) will be sent to verify the account, and orders cannot be placed until the account is verified. According to foodpanda, this process has always been in place.

An OTP verification process, when customers use a new device to log in their accounts, was introduced recently in the past few months as an additional safeguard.

With an email address and a phone number, loansharks would be able to create an order. But hold on — wouldn't the phone number be traced back to them?

Win from Unity 81 offered a possible explanation for this, saying that phone cards might have been illegally purchased in order for them to operate anonymously. Basically, these phone cards are not officially registered under the customer's real identity.

This gets around any problem of requiring an OTP when setting up the account.

Regarding the point on traceability, there have been cases where offenders have been successfully identified, foodpanda said, and they currently work closely with the relevant authorities for such cases.

Will there be additional safeguards?

Given the potential for misuse of food delivery platforms, there are some ways to deter people from making orders that are not authentic.

A Grab spokesperson said that they limit the order value for "potentially-errant users who opt for a cash-on-delivery payment method". These users will need to switch to cashless payment methods instead if they wish to proceed with completing their orders. They did not comment on the exact value.

And what about removing the "cash on delivery" option?

foodpanda explained that this option offers "an inclusive service" to their customers, especially those who may not have access to cashless payment options.

However, despite keeping this payment option, they said that they will be "rolling out additional limitations for cash on delivery orders to better ensure the authenticity of each order".

The exact nature of the limitations were not mentioned, but there is a chance that it would involve limiting the order value.

In the meantime, foodpanda said: "We appeal for the responsible use of food delivery services and cash on delivery option in consideration of food delivery riders who are working hard round the clock."

Top photo via SPF, Nur'aqilah AZ's Facebook post.