‘He was just so real’: Why online scams are claiming victims among the educated and well-off


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Other victims cited similar experiences of the never-ending top-ups required of them.

Han Ni, who was persuaded to invest in a “game” platform, had her account frozen for “violating a rule”. To reactivate it, she was told to put in half the amount she had in there: About S$35,000.

Then she had to put in another S$10,000 for “outstanding tax”. “Every time I contacted the customer service, they made a lot of excuses,” she said. “They were very formal and polite, but they kept repeating the same things.”

She remembers one time they said their system was down. Then they said they were processing many clients and her queue number was 986.

“You could get into the VIP green lane to (jump) the queue,” she recalled being told. But she would need to pay another S$10,000. “I felt like I’d put too much money in, so I decided to wait.”

The next day, her queue number was 983.


That’s when she realised, with a shock, that she had already put in S$70,000 — and it was increasingly clear to her that it was a scam.

She had wiped out her savings and had borrowed about S$40,000 from her friends because of Chen Xi’s urgings. He even coached her on how to ask them for money.

“I had to start … again (from scratch),” said Han Ni, who now works two part-time jobs to pay her friends back and feels “so guilty” when having a meal. “If I have money to (buy food), then I should pay all the money back.”

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