THE deal seemed too good to be true. Turns out it was.
At least 112 people may have been cheated of more than $78,000 in an online scam. They were sold hotel stays at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) that they might never get to claim.
The deal for the hotel packages was advertised on the forum of popular parenting website Singapore Motherhood by a user who called herself ‘AzilCyan’.
On April 6, she posted a message in the Bulk Purchase section of the forum, offering RWS hotel stays bundled with Universal Studios tickets for prices as low as $400.
That would get the buyer two days and one night at either Hotel Michael, the Hard Rock Hotel or Festive Hotel, along with four Universal Studios tickets. For those willing to pay more, there was also a $710 package for a longer stay, and more theme park tickets thrown in.
The Straits Times understands that the deals had been fully honoured until last week.
Those who had bought the prepaid packages got a shock when they turned up at RWS and found that the rooms had not been paid for. Accountant Sharon Lee, 34, went to Festive Hotel at 4pm last Thursday with her husband and two children, only to be told by AzilCyan over the phone that they had to pay for the rooms first with their own credit card. The online seller also assured Ms Lee that her business partner Sharifah would come by with a refund by 5.30pm.
Worried that something was amiss, Ms Lee insisted on waiting for Sharifah to come and pay for the room. But by 7pm she had not arrived. In the end, the mother of two had to pay for the room herself. But luckily for her, Sharifah turned up at 7.30pm to give her a refund of $1,200 that was charged to her card.
‘We had been waiting from 4pm with my two kids, I was quite angry and asked her how she could not make payment, then she gave me a pathetic look and said something had cropped up. She had been giving us a lot of empty promises,’ said Ms Lee. She added that Sharifah was a plump woman who looked like she was in her late 20s or early 30s.
By then, other people had already started to post their bad experiences on the forum. But AzilCyan continued to insist that things were all right, said another victim, Madam Wang. The 37-year-old, who declined to give her full name, had booked a $440 package for July 19 to celebrate her son’s first birthday.
‘She said certain dates were blocked by the hotel and that there were mix-ups with the hotel. I think it was a delay tactic,’ said the office manager.
Then, everything unravelled.
On Monday, AzilCyan sent a long text message to some of those who bought the packages, saying Sharifah had absconded with the money.
Yesterday, it emerged that at least 112 people had bought the packages but had not claimed them yet. They forked out a total of $78,842.46, according to a list some victims had drawn up.
Repeated calls yesterday to AzilCyan and Sharifah’s mobile numbers went unanswered. But in text messages shown to The Straits Times, AzilCyan claimed that she had forked out some $16,000 of her own money for the refunds.
She added that she had made a police report, and said Sharifah was not contactable because she is under police investigation. The administrators of Singapore Motherhood also made a police report.
The police confirmed that complaints had been lodged, and that investigations into the matter had started.
The Straits Times understands that Sharifah was the one responsible for booking the rooms. Being a frequent customer of RWS, she had accrued credits and managed to secure the rooms at a cheaper rate. But those who bought the packages said they had transferred money into AzilCyan’s account.
‘Initially, she refused to tell us how she got the deals, then suddenly she says she has a business partner,’ said a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Lee.
When contacted, RWS said the women were not authorised travel agents that it had worked with.
‘We take a serious view of such transactional breaches,’ said spokesman Robin Goh.
Here’s the original offer as posted by Cyan on SMH on June 6:
Someone from the forum apparently paid Cyan/Siti a visit at her house in Tampines yesterday, and her husband claimed that there was nothing they could do since they were cheated too, but admitted that they have not gone to look for Sharifah (the ‘business partner’). The person then went to Sharifah’s residence at Punggol but no one was in and she was not answering her phone either. Finally, Sharifah’s ‘aunt’ answered the phone and said that Sharifah had been cheated too. So point here, point there…..sorry to say that I think this case might not be resolved anytime soon.
(BP organiser) Cyan Azil : Siti Nurliza Binte Saleh
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
When all this was starting to heat up, apparently all her FB, twitter accounts etc were deleted.
(“Business partner”) Sharifah : Sharifah Hanim Binte Sayed Idros
Email : email@example.com
Is this her myspace account? Fits the description of a plump woman in mid 20s- 30s.
When the IRs opened, people knew that it was going to cause some issues…but I don’t think anyone thought about ‘hotel room scam’. In May this year, a few men were arrested and charged with USS ticket fraud.
But remember guys, THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS. And SMH forums = Scammer Mums Haven…Ziman still lurks there to grab freebies, I am told.