Man scammed mask buyers, then used money to flee to Batam to marry pregnant lover

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
A bundle of surgical masks.
A bundle of surgical masks. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A man who cheated seven individuals into thinking he had surgical masks to sell via Carousell withdrew the money transferred to him and fled to Batam to be with his pregnant girlfriend.

He then spent the $1,700 on his girlfriend’s pregnancy and on their marriage.

Mohammad Zulhilmi Arif, 23, was jailed for 14 weeks on Wednesday (19 January) after he pleaded guilty to three out of seven counts of cheating, and one count of bringing the ill-gotten proceeds out of Singapore. The remaining counts were considered for his sentencing.

Took deposits but failed to deliver masks

Zulhilmi, a Singaporean, operated an account with the username “Xaviertan556” on Carousell, an online marketplace platform. He created a listing advertising “3-Ply Surgical Masks and N95 Masks” for sale at $15 for a box of 50 pieces on 21 February 2020.

At the time, the pandemic was in its early days and demand for masks in Singapore had spiked due to the fear of the coronavirus and the relatively limited supply of masks.

The three victims mentioned in court documents had contacted Zulhilmi after seeing his listing and wanted to buy masks.

To a 41-year-old man, Zulhilmi said he could “bring over” the masks for him as he had ready stock. The victim decided to buy 300 boxes of masks for $3,750 and transferred a deposit of $750 to Zulhilmi.

Zulhilmi claimed he would be able to deliver the masks on 24 February to the victim’s company. However when the day came, he delayed the delivery and then never showed up.

Another victim, a 23-year-old woman, decided to buy 50 boxes of masks for $750 after Zulhilmi said the masks would arrive in Singapore on 23 February. The woman paid a deposit of $225 via a transfer and received an invoice from Zulhilmi, who said he would deliver the goods after 10pm on 23 February. He failed to do so.

On 24 February, Zulhilmi arranged to meet the woman at Chinatown MRT but was a no-show. He then became uncontactable.

The third victim, a 47-year-old woman, decided to buy 120 boxes of masks for $1,800. She paid a deposit of $540 as a “security against cancellation”, and Zulhilmi said he would deliver the masks on 24 February to the woman’s company.

On that day, he did not show up. He later said he would deliver the masks the next day, but did not do so.

In total, he duped seven individuals into sending him $2302.50 for non-existent masks.

Arrested upon return from Batam

Zulhilmi had withdrawn $1,700 sent to his bank account while in the vicinity of Harbourfront MRT on 21 February 2020. He then travelled to Batam.

He was arrested only on 3 December last year, when he returned to Singapore from Batam. He did not make any restitution to the victims.

During investigations, Zulhilmi said that he had gone to Batam to be with his girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child.

“He claimed to have spent the cash of $1,700 on his girlfriend’s pregnancy and on their marriage. He admitted to cheating the people who had transferred him deposits for masks,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Benjamin Samynathan.

DPP Samynathan sought 14 weeks’ jail for Zulhilmi, arguing that the man had played on the public’s fears of COVID-19, as Singapore had reported its first case on 23 January 2020.

The prosecutor also cited figures which showed that there was a 116.2 per cent increase in e-commerce scams in January to March 2020, as compared to the same period in 2021.

“Of these e-commerce scams, COVID-19-related items such as surgical face masks were one of the top five items commonly scammed during the relevant period,” he added.

He cited the need for general deterrence in the case of like-minded offenders.

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