It began with a Telegram message.
The text, from an unknown user going by the name Josephine Chang, promised a quick and easy job with reasonable commissions.
Enticed by the opportunity, Lina (not her real name) replied to express her interest.
The job seemed simple enough. Chang told Lina that she had to rate airlines via an online platform to "promote and advertise" the airlines. The more ratings Lina completed, the more commission she would get.
But with a catch: first, she had to make a deposit.
Lina, a 28-year-old admin manager, considers herself a trusting character. Even so, she shared that at the start, she "really didn't want to do it".
But Chang was persuasive. She explained that the deposit was required to prove the authenticity of the ratings — after all, every rating has to be tied to a transaction.
The money would be returned to her, Chang assured, with the commission on top of it. All Lina had to do was take that first step.
The first sum Lina was told to deposit was S$112.
Lina said she has heard stories about scams making the rounds, but she did not think she was falling into one as a victim -- even when she had to fork out money.
"[I thought] if lose it, then lose it," she said. "But I got some money (S$11) credited to me. So I was like 'ok sure, let's proceed'."
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.
After that first transaction, Chang informed her that to continue rating the airlines, she would have to top up some money into the online platform.
This would be used to pay the merchants so the platform could continue offering this service, she explained.
But as she continued to make increasingly large payments — each one to a different bank account — Lina began to face problems.
When she attempted to withdraw her earnings, she received an error message informing her that she had to complete another rating first.
And after she did so, she was told that she had to top up even more money before she could make a withdrawal.
By then, Lina no longer cared about earning commissions — she just wanted to get her initial "investment" back.
"But eventually, I still cannot (sic) save myself."
Her sixth and final transaction was a deposit of S$20,104 on Sep. 20, the day after after she received that first message.
In total, she lost S$34,226 in just two days.
Still received messages
When she realised she had fallen victim to a scam, she was "very upset and desperate", she shared.
This was especially since she'd borrowed money from her mother as capital for the so-called investment.
As Chang continued to send her increasingly urgent messages, asking her to top up even more money — S$42,000 — to retrieve her deposit, she felt torn.
"The urge to top up was there, but I really didn't have the money to continue," she said.
Instead, Lina decided to file a police report on Sep. 21. "They told me the money is as [good as] gone," she said.
"And I don't think the bank will give me the money out of goodwill. So now it's just... I don't know."
Her family still does not know about the scam.
The police confirmed that a report was lodged and investigations are ongoing.
No red flags
Lina shared that previously, she had done other legitimate surveys to earn money.
The scam was also made more believable by the fact that she was added into a group chat with several other "employees".
The participants would text in that chat daily, reporting how much they earned that day.
"I don't know if they are victims like me or simply admins," she admitted.
For now, Lina hopes to use her income from her regular job to slowly pay her mother back. The first few days after the scam, she suffered from panic attacks — but she has been gradually coming to terms with the events.
She also hopes her ordeal can help spread awareness among the public.
"It is not just older aunties or uncles getting scammed, but it has also come to the younger generation," she said.
"[These scammers] make people feel like just killing themselves... the sums are too huge."
Things to note
For more information on scams, members of the public can visit this website, or call the Anti-Scam Hotline at 1800-722-6688.
Anyone with information on such scams may call the Police Hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit information online here. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
Top image courtesy of Lina.