64-year-old Leela found a flier at her door in September, which promoted a “religious master who coud change fortunes. She called the number, hoping that the person could change her fortune for the better.
10 years ago, Leela was retrenched from her factory job where she had been working for 36 years. Her husband died of a heart attack the same year and she ended up having to sell her 5 bedroom HDB flat to settle the debts. She has lived in rental flats ever since.
The “religious master” who answered her call told her that her date of birth was responsible for her ill luck.
“He said he will do prayers for me,” added Madam Leela, who has no children.
The man called back a few days later to say she had won a $1.2 million lottery in Malaysia.
“I was so happy, I thought I could buy a new house,” she said.
But the man told Madam Leela she had to pay some taxes and administrative fees first.
Over the next three months, she transferred amounts ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 through a remittance agency and a bank to someone she had never met. Besides using her savings, she pawned some jewellery.
She realized she had been scammed only after the man stopped contacting her in December. She lost a total of $242,800. Madam Leela was advised by relatives to lodge a police report last week.
Such cases have been on the rise, according to police.
From January to last month, 73 reports of lottery scams were lodged, marking a 70 per cent increase over the same period last year. There were 304 reports in the whole of last year, compared to 213 in 2013 – a 40 per cent jump. A total of $3.4 million was involved last year, and $3.3 million in 2013.
The police advise the public to be more alert to these scams, which typically involve a victim being told that he has won a prize in a foreign lottery.
The victim, who is contacted by phone or e-mail, will then be persuaded to pay “tax” or “administration” fees first.
One case reported in January resulted in a loss of $3 million – the highest for a lottery scam. It involved transfers over a period stretching from 2011 to last year.
The police warn the public not to make any advance payment to claim any prize money, and to ignore messages claiming they have won a prize when they had not participated in any draws. The public should also call the police on 999 to report any such scam.