TWS: This is a contributor piece. We encourage people to be kind in the comments as it’s not easy opening up about painful life experiences. Given the sensitive nature of this topic, some details have been edited to protect our contributor’s identity. The story has also been edited for clarity. This post is sponsored by Standard Chartered.
Most people who read this blog fear market downturns, and investing in asset classes that lose their value over the years.
But in my experience, one grossly underestimated threat to one’s wealth is scams. Yup, you heard me right. Scams.
How do I know? Because over the past decade, my family has unfortunately lost more than $200,000 to scammers in three separate scams.
How? Let me explain.
My father: Scammed via group chat over several years
When my father retired a couple of years ago, he thought it would be a good idea to put some money aside.
That said, the money in high-interest savings accounts then were not that attractive.
On the other extreme end of the spectrum, he also did not like the idea of investing in the stock market, because there was a chance he’d make losses.
That’s when an acquaintance from his religious group told him about a special deal that a certain big-name foreign bank was offering. Many of my father’s friends were also in the group – and they were all in a telegram chat together.
This savings account would guarantee about 8% p.a for as long as members invested a certain minimum amount, and ‘maintained’ their investments with regular deposits.
There were two things needed to qualify, though. First of all, members needed to sign an NDA (non-disclosure) to not tell anyone about this special deal.
Secondly, in the event he wanted to empty the account, he needed to find someone to ‘take over’ his role and match his deposits.
When our family heard about this, we thought this seemed strange. I tried to find information online on places such as MoneySmart and Seedly, but there was none.
Despite the family expressing their concerns, my father decided to go ahead.
Every month, a leader in the chat group would update all members on how their investments were doing with screenshots. Occasionally, they would also pay out some money when requested by members.
Over the course of seven years, I estimate my father set aside about $1,000 per month into this account – or about $84,000 in total.
One day, the telegram group was deleted without warning by the group leader – everyone in it, including my father’s acquaintance, apparently lost money.
To be honest, about four years in, he had the suspicion that it might be a scam.
However, the thought was just too painful for him to accept; it became emotionally easier to keep paying it than accepting that years of hard-earned savings were actually non-existent.
Total lost: $84,000
Myself: Duped into fake crypto platform
Like many people, I got into crypto last year, and was quite public about it on Instagram.
At some point, I was reached out to by a pretty girl who responded to one of my Instagram stories randomly. She didn’t look like a model, but she looked well-dressed and quite affluent.
We eventually moved the conversation to Whatsapp, where we texted daily. She showed a lot of interest in my life, asking me how my day was, as well as sending me pictures. It almost felt like the beginnings of a new romantic relationship.
Initially we talked about our daily lives, and our tastes in music and travel. One day, I brought up that I was interested in crypto trading.
She shared that she was also a crypto trader, and had been experiencing a lot of success. The screenshots she sent showed me that she had a net worth of well over S$1 million.
She offered to help me trade, but needed me to create an account on the trading platform she used first. This was because she was not familiar with other platforms.
I was suspicious in the beginning. However, after successfully depositing and withdrawing smaller amounts of $1,000 several times, I became more confident and transferred $20,000 in. Her cajoling definitely helped as well.
Over the next few weeks, my trading account showed insanely high profits – within weeks, I had grown my $30,000 to $80,000.
This increased my confidence further, and I transferred another $20,000 in, and later $50,000. I was extremely happy – with such results, I’d be achieving F.I.R.E in no time.
When the trading account showed a balance of $750,000, I decided that I was going to withdraw my money – to diversify to less riskier investments. Initially, my female friend gave me many excuses as to why the money could not be withdrawn (system maintenance, software update etc). She would also encourage me to stay invested.
But as I became more insistent, her tone became colder. She finally agreed to withdraw my profits, but there would be a $500 withdrawal fee. Desperate, I paid it – and then I never heard from her again.
Later on I learnt that this particular type of scam was called Sha Zhu Pan 杀猪盘 in Chinese, or Pig Butchering when translated. Scammers approach victims, build a relationship with them over the course of several weeks or months, and then entice them to ‘invest’ increasing amounts of money. Literally like fattening a pig before a slaughter.
Turns out, the website and the profits were all fake. My female friend? Probably fake as well. It’s likely I was catfished by someone using an influencer’s picture.
Total lost: $100,000
My brother: Victim of phishing scam
Last year, my brother allegedly received a SMS from his bank saying that his account was compromised and that it needed immediate attention.
He called the hotline provided and followed the steps he was given by the bank employee.
During the process, he provided his internet banking log in details, as well as the OTP so that the employee could secure the account.
Little did he know, there was no issue with the bank account at all. The text was just a trick for him to give all the information to the scammer he thought was the bank.
The next time my brother logged in, he found out that his bank account had been emptied.
Total lost: $56,000
How can we be so gullible?
I can already imagine people making fun of us for being ignorant enough to fall for scams in the comments section. While I feel that is unnecessarily mean, I’ve come to terms that we had some responsibility.
Yes, my dad was not financially savvy. If he was, he would have known that 8% p.a guaranteed was not a realistic rate for something that was advertised as risk-free. It was too good to be true.
Yes, I was after quick monetary gains. I’ve always looked out for ‘secret’, unique, non-mainstream ways to get rich quickly. Ways that mainstream financial sites don’t talk about. This opened me up to being catfished, and losing a huge percentage of my life savings.
However, what is also true is that you should not underestimate the tactics used by these scammers.
I’ve always thought that only older and less tech-savvy folk would fall prey to scams. However, by creating specific circumstances, scammers are able to exploit your feelings to very quickly take advantage of you.
Know how to spot the red flags
TWS: Scams have changed throughout the ages, but scammers have upskilled and are continuously making their scams more convincing and believable
At the heart of it; they will still try to do 3 things:
Manipulate our emotional needs: For example, the Sha Zhu Pan (Pig Butchering Scam, 杀猪盘) scam, preys on victims’ emotional needs, as well as greed to extract money from them.
Use scare tactics: Phishing scams like the one mentioned in this story create an emergency situation that makes one hand over confidential details quickly in the heat of the moment.
Play on our greed: Everyone likes a good deal. But if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
A final note
I understand the guilt and shame of being scammed.
It downright sucks – especially when you thought that you were too smart to get scammed.
But scammers have gotten way more sophisticated over the years. And chances are, they’re probably smarter than the average person.
So if you suspect that you’re being scammed, there’s no shame in reaching out to seek help.
Tell a loved one. Immediately notify your bank. Lodge a police report online or at a neighbourhood police centre.
Stay woke, salaryman.
A message from our sponsor, Standard Chartered
As scams get more sophisticated, it’s becoming more important to stay vigilant to ensure your hard-earned money is safeguarded.
Actively ACT against scams by:
Making use of Added security features when making transactions
- Utilise the emergency self-service “Kill Switch” that allows you to freeze your bank account if you suspect that your account has been compromised
Checking for signs of suspicious activity:
- Avoid clicking on links of suspicious emails
- Check and verify the authenticity of official websites or messages received
- If the other party requests for your personal information, be vigilant and do not provide the information
Tell the authorities and others (like friends and family) about scams
- If you suspect that you are a victim of a scam attempt, update the people around you and file a police report here
Find out more about how banking with Standard Chartered is made safe here today.
2 replies to “I come from a family of scam victims. Here’s how we lost more than $200,000 over the past decade.”
1. What makes you conclude that you are good at your job?
a. Because you think you know?
b. Your supervisor says so?
c. Do you know if your work is revised by your bosses?
2. Did you explain to your boss how did you do your work or is it just pass some reports without discussion?
3. Is your work routine or flexible?
4. Do you know what’s the bottom line of the company? Making profit or otherwise?
5. Have you taken self development courses to upgrade yourself?
6. Have you checked the salary of similar positions?
7. Is this something you want to do for the rest of your working life? If not then what are you doing about it? Jump or stay?
8. Have you taken other work besides those assigned to you to show your caliber?
9. Are you in the ‘support’ group or ‘complaining’group? You might think that your boss doesn’t know what you’re talking behind their back but believe me, they know! Walls do talk!
10. What are you doing to the overall quality of work in this company? Work only or a relationship like family?
Last month my husband’s cousin admitted to me that she had been scammed out of $200. She received an email from someone she thought was a church friend. They were asking her to send $200 via amazon to their niece. She didn’t look closely at the email address and went ahead with the request. The next day she got another email asking for $500. That’s when she got suspicious. This time she did look more closely at the email address and realized it was just a little different. Fortunately, she wised up and deleted the email, but she was mad at herself and a little embarrassed. She thought that because she had a college degree, she was too smart to fall for scams.