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UOB staff foil scammer who went with 80-year-old victim to bank branch to withdraw $40k

SINGAPORE – Accompanied by her “grandson”, an 80-year-old woman went to the UOB branch in Bendemeer in October and asked to withdraw over $40,000.

She told UOB service executive Grace Ng that she planned on handing the money to the “grandson” to pay for her medical bills.

But Ms Ng, 29, grew suspicious when the man insisted on withdrawing the sum in cash instead of a cheque.

She also noticed that the pair were both behaving like strangers, and that he seemed to show interest in the conversation only when Ms Ng asked for details of the bank transfer.

After Ms Ng asked the man for his identification, she felt something was amiss when she noticed that he was holding a foreign student pass despite his “grandmother” being a Singapore citizen.

This prompted her to report the matter to assistant branch manager Jasmine Tay, 52, who called the police after noticing that they did not seem to be grandmother and grandson.

It turned out that the elderly woman was a victim of a government officials impersonation scam and had allegedly been given a script to memorise by the man playing the role of her grandson, and she delivered it seemingly under duress.

The man was arrested on the same day at the branch and investigations are ongoing.

The Straits Times understands this is the first time someone has been arrested at a UOB branch.

Ms Ng and Ms Tay spoke to the media on Thursday at the launch of the Year-End Crime Prevention Campaign – organised by the National Crime Prevention Council and the Singapore Police Force.

Ms Tay said that when the victim and the scammer were at the branch, she took the elderly woman aside to do further checks, and found it strange that the man did not show any concern when she did so.

She tried explaining to the woman that she could pay for her bills with her card instead of withdrawing money.

“I also asked her if I could help her call any of her family members, but she refused,” said Ms Tay.

The day after the man was arrested, Ms Ng and Ms Tay visited the elderly woman, and she told them that a few days before the incident, she had received a call on her home phone saying that she was “under investigation”.

Then the man visited her and took her to an ATM to try to withdraw the sum, but this failed as the sum was too large, she said. They visited the UOB branch in Bendemeer the next day.

The launch of the Year-End Crime Prevention Campaign was held at the UOB Plaza Atrium in Raffles Place and the 2023 campaign focuses on addressing scams, among other offences.

The case at the UOB branch was highlighted by Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling at the launch. “This example goes to show us that there can be an offline nexus to an online scam,” she said, adding that the man who was arrested at the branch is a document mule.

The police said document mules are those who are enlisted to help scammers physically execute the crime, to make the scam appear more realistic.

Apart from scams, the campaign focuses on addressing shop theft, outrage of modesty, and voyeurism.

“We would like to work very actively with our entertainment operators, to make sure that they train their staff, to make sure that they work with their patrons, so that everyone can have a good time and not unfortunately have brushes with the law because of outrage of modesty,” said Ms Sun.

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