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A 45-year-old man has been arrested for cheating after he allegedly accepted payment for hotel bookings that he then failed to fulfil.
Multiple victims had came across the man's purported advertisement for hotel bookings on e-commerce platform Carousell and proceeded to liaise with him via WhatsApp. However, they failed to receive the hotel bookings after making payment via bank transfers and PayNow.
The police said they received multiple reports in December from victims about the alleged scam. Through investigations, officers from Woodlands Police Division established the man's identity arrested him on Wednesday (Dec 15).
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the man was allegedly involved in at least 29 similar cases with total reported losses amounting to $30,000," the police added.
The man will be charged in court on Friday with cheating, which carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.
Several of the man's victims have come forward to Stomp to share their experiences.
Stomper J said he managed to link up with 29 other victims who had also fallen prey to the man's hotel booking scam.
All 30 parties, who are in a WhatsApp group, had made police reports from December 11 to 17.
Relating his experience, Stomper J said: "My wife made payment of $1,300 via PayNow on December 6 on my behalf for a night's stay in an Ocean Suite on December 11.
"The man went MIA on the morning of December 11. We tried bombarding his phone number with calls and WhatsApp messages, but to no avail.
"Not only did he cheat our money, he also toyed with our mental and emotional feelings as we had already told our relatives about the trip and packed our kids' luggage.
"This guy is extremely scheming as he tricked us into believing him by sending us good reviews from other customers and followed up promptly with us after our payment.
"It turns out that he received these good reviews by tricking previous customers into making payment and then refunding them the full amount. He told them that he had Covid-19 and was hence unable to fulfil the bookings.
"Fortunately, we were able to contact one of the users who had reviewed him previously and she managed to link us up with other victims.
"Together, we discovered that his ultimate scheme was to trick of all us in one week and disappear on December 11."
Here's how much each of the 30 victims lost:
Victim 1: $1,230
Stomper J/Victim 2: $1,300
Victim 3: $840
Victim 4: $600
Victim 5: $850
Victim 6: $1,300
Victim 7: $900
Victim 8: $1,600
Victim 9: $1,700
Victim 10: $430
Victim 11: $1,000
Victim 12: $1,250
Victim 13: $750
Victim 14: $500
Victim 15: $400
Victim 16: $2,250
Victim 17: $800
Victim 18: $1,600
Victim 19: $830
Victim 20: $860
Victim 21: $840
Victim 22: $2,600
Victim 23: $1,250
Victim 24: $860
Victim 25: $830
Victim 26: $1,080
Victim 27: $1,250
Victim 28: $1,250
Victim 29: $850
Victim 30: $1,800
So how did the man manage to pull off his scam on so many victims?
Much can be inferred from the way he converses with his victims, as seen in screenshots that were shared with Stomp.
Here are some of his subtle tactics:
Here, the man applies the modus operandi of most scammers: Sharing what seems to be an extremely good deal that one should not pass up on.
In some instances, he offers to show his victims proof of other users paying an even higher amount, allowing them to think that they are getting a huge bargain.
Too good to be missed? More like too good to be true.
The man applies pressure on his victims to confirm their booking and make payment quickly by telling them that availability is running low.
He also gives the impression that there are many interested parties snapping up the deal. The supposed popularity of the deal makes it seem even more legitimate.
By sharing a name and phone number, the man comes across as a real and traceable person who's open to providing personal info about himself.
He also continues to liaise with his victims on WhatsApp, at times making jokes and offering deals like a proper friend would.
Whenever anyone raises doubts, the man is not offended by their questions. Instead, he is sympathetic and acts like he understands their predicament.
He would reassure his victims in a number of ways, such as claiming that he has been "doing this for years" and saying that he would definitely be meeting them in person to fulfil the hotel booking.
To further dispel suspicion, the man would also send victims screenshots of previous transactions he had made with other parties, such as those showing him accepting pricier bookings and providing refunds for unfulfilled deals.
"Which scammer refunds money?" he can be seen trying to convince one victim.
Have a special request for your hotel stay? From requiring an extra bed to wanting a cake, the man sounds more than willing to help inform the hotel on his victims' behalf.
However, note that the man does not promise you the skies.
Instead, he appears both helpful yet realistic at the same time by telling his victims that he would try his best. This keeps his victims hopeful but with manageable expectations.
The man also mentions the Covid-19 situation and ever-changing measures to help his cause.
One of the victims, 'G', told Stomp that she was "sweet-talked" into forking out $1,300 for a hotel staycation.
She recounted: "When I contacted the man last Saturday (Dec 11) via WhatsApp, he claimed to have been 'saboed' by people.
"Now that he has been arrested, I hope he is punished accordingly. All our hard-earned money is simply gone because of this sickening scammer!"
View more screenshots in the gallery.