SINGAPORE, June 7 — A 40-year-old man who overstayed in Singapore for 2,394 days, or more than six years, and cheated his compatriots from Malaysia in a rental scam has been sentenced to 14 months’ jail and three strokes of the cane.
On Monday (June 6), Er Chern Siew pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges — six related to cheating and a single immigration charge.
Ten other similar charges were taken into consideration for Er’s sentencing, which was backdated to Oct 16 last year, the date of his remand.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Gabriel Choong said that Er, who was arrested on Oct 14 last year, first entered Singapore through the Woodlands Checkpoint by bus on May 13 in 2015.
He remained in Singapore even after his visit pass — which granted him permission to be in the country for only 14 days — had expired.
To sustain himself, Er found a job as a salesman and as an estate agent, even though he was not licensed under the Estate Agents Act, DPP Choong said.
He avoided detection by residing in various locations in Singapore, and even signed for a lease of a unit in an undisclosed location under the name of his friend Lim Sau Sen.
Er also used Lim’s particulars when logging on to the TraceTogether mobile application during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The app was used for contact-tracing purposes by the Government.
Aside from that, Er registered his mobile number under the name of his girlfriend Kok Po Yen.
The authorities eventually caught on to him when a victim he had cheated filed a complaint with the police against him on July 16 last year.
Investigations found that between July 1 and Sept 26 last year, Er cheated 14 victims into placing rental deposits for the same apartment at the Regal 35 apartment complex along Lorong 35 Geylang.
The court heard that at least five of the victims were Malaysians and they were women between the ages of 27 and 30.
As part of his ploy to help property owners find tenants, Er would send direct messages on social media channels to people who appear to be Malaysians residing in Singapore, in order to solicit their interests in renting properties that he managed, DPP Choong said.
The details of how the five women were cheated were roughly similar to one another, and the sums involved ranged between S$800 and S$850 (RM2,550 and RM2,710). DPP Choong said that the total amount Er cheated from his 14 victims was S$10,450.
The highest amount he pocketed was from a 29-year-old woman who was deceived by Er on Sept 18 last year into believing that the Regal 35 apartment would be available for rent on Dec 1.
Er convinced the woman into depositing S$850 into his girlfriend’s bank account as a rental deposit. At some point thereafter, the man claimed that there was a delay in the move-in date and could no longer be reached.
DPP Choong also told the court of an unrelated offence that Er committed on Oct 30 in 2020, which involved a Singaporean man, then aged 56, who had left his debit card at an ATM machine at HarbourFront Centre.
The prosecutor said that Er took the card and used it on four occasions that evening at various shops in the shopping complex. With the card, Er paid for goods worth a total of S$336.58 from Unity and Watson’s pharmacies, the Gadget Mix electronics store and Cheers convenience store.
To date, no restitution has been made, DPP Choong said, as he sought a jail term of between 14 and 17 months, and three strokes of the cane.
‘Afraid to surrender himself’
Speaking on behalf of his client, who appeared in court via a video link, defence counsel Periowsamy Otharam of law firm K&L Gates Straits Law said that Er’s initial intention to come to Singapore was not for a social visit, but to find work.
Although he did not go into details, Mr Otharam said that Er eventually found a job but his employer told him two months later that he was unable to secure a work permit for him.
“So… realising that he had overstayed, he was afraid to surrender himself,” Mr Otharam said.
Er later found work as a mover and was employed until the Covid-19 pandemic happened in 2020.
Mr Otharam said that this was when Er “went into this pursuit” of the rental scams.
The lawyer agreed that what his client did was not right, but said that in each instance, the amount Er cheated was “small” because he merely wanted to sustain himself.
“The purpose of why he committed these offences was due… to the Covid period. Otherwise, he was earning an honest living as a mover and sending money back to his parents, although he was illegally here — he is not denying that,” Mr Otharam added, as he sought a lower sentence of 10 months’ jail and three strokes of the cane.
For overstaying, Er could have been jailed up to six months and given not less than three strokes of the cane.
For cheating his victims of the rental deposits, he could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined. — TODAY