Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
Cheating is a criminal offence in Singapore. This article explains when cheating is committed and the penalties for being convicted of cheating.
What is the Offence of Cheating?
According to section 415 of the Penal Code, cheating occurs when a person fraudulently or dishonestly deceives the victim to:
- Hand over property or money to any person;
- Consent that another person retains his property or money;
- Do anything that he would not do if he were not deceived (the person cheating must have intended for the outcome); or
- Omit to do something that he would have done if he were not deceived (the person cheating must have intended for this outcome).
The acts or omissions must also cause, or must be likely to cause, damage or harm to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.
An example of cheating includes where the cheater pretends to be from the government and intentionally deceives the victim to pay for goods which the victim did not mean to pay for.
Penalties for Cheating
The penalty for cheating under section 415 of the Penal Code is a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years.
In 2019, a full-time national serviceman was convicted of several cheating offences and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 14 months.
One of these offences was committed in 2014, where the full-time national serviceman was given a list of event participants and their NRIC numbers as part of a volunteer stint. However, he used the list to make 49 mobile line applications in order to obtain heavily discounted or free mobile phones bundled with the mobile plans. He obtained 28 phones worth $30,152 in total and sold several to second-hand dealers.
He also pretended to be a Mediacorp representative in 2017 and deceived a company employee into delivering to him 50 T-shirts worth more than $600 in total, without paying for them.
In 2018, he deceived a victim into believing that he paid her for $5,000 worth of products by showing screenshots of purported bank transfers.
More recently, a 24-year-old man was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment for deceiving 40 people into parting with $38,000 in total for concert tickets on online marketplace Carousell. Several victims were as young as 13 years old.
There is a more serious form of cheating found under section 420 of the Penal Code, which targets cheating by intentional or dishonest inducement of the delivery of property.
Such aggravated cheating occurs when a person cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the victim to:
- Hand over property to any person;
- Partially or completely make, alter or destroy a valuable security* (such as credit cards, stored value cards and automated teller machine (ATM) cards);
- Make, alter or destroy a signed and sealed document which may become a valuable security.
The penalty for such aggravated cheating under section 420 of the Penal Code is a fine and imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Other cheating offences
Cheating by personation
It is also an offence to “cheat by personation”. According to section 416 of the Penal Code, cheating by personation occurs when the cheater:
- Pretends to be some other person;
- Knowingly substitutes one person for another; or
- Tells the victim that he or some another person ( the cheater’s accomplice, for example) is someone else than who they really are,
regardless of whether the other person is alive or dead.
The penalty for cheating by personation under section 416 of the Penal Code is a fine, and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Illegally obtaining personal information
As of 1 January 2020, it is an offence under section 416A of the Penal Code for a person to obtain, retain or supply someone else’s personal information for the purposes of facilitating the commission of an offence. This is provided that the cheater knows or has reason to believe that such information had been obtained without its owner’s consent.
An example of this offence would be the theft of identity documents by non-technological means. If the identity theft had taken place by technological means, the cheater could instead be charged with an offence under sections 3 to 6 of the Computer Misuse Act, relating to unauthorised access, modification or use of computer systems.
The penalty for illegally obtaining personal information under section 416A of the Penal Code is a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years.
Cheating in casinos
Cheating may also take place in casinos. According to section 172A of the Casino Control Act, a person cheats at casinos if he attempts to obtain money or an advantage for himself or another person by:
- A fraudulent trick, device, sleight of hand or representation;
- A fraudulent scheme or practice;
- A fraudulent use of gaming equipment; or
- Placing a bet in a game after the result of the game is known.
The penalty for cheating in casinos under section 172A of the Casino Control Act is a fine of up to $150,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 7 years.
Cheating in computer games
Cheating in computer games can involve hacking into a game account and emptying it of valuable in-game items, which constitutes unauthorised access to computer material, as provided for in section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act.
The penalty for cheating in computer games under section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years for a first offence.
If losses of at least $10,000 in value were caused as a result of the offence, the penalty is fine of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 7 years.
How will Offenders Convicted of Cheating be Sentenced?
For the general offence of cheating, courts generally impose a fine if the quantum of the sum of money cheated is small and there are no aggravating factors.
For aggravated cheating under section 420 of the Penal Code, imprisonment is mandatory. Nonetheless, there are exceptional cases where an offender convicted of aggravated cheating may receive the sentence of imprisonment for only 1 day (in addition to the compulsory fine). This can only happen if there are no aggravating factors and there are exceptional mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors resulting in heavier sentences
1) Offences that ought to be deterred for the public interest (e.g. credit card fraud)
The Singapore courts treat credit card offences very seriously. This is because such offences grievously undermine credit cards as a preferred mode of payment in today’s commerce and Singapore’s standing as an international financial hub.
In the case of PP v Fernando Payagala, a 20-year-old Sri Lankan was convicted of cheating for misusing a credit card he had found near his seat during a flight from New Zealand to Singapore. When he landed in Singapore, he had immediately used the card to purchase a laptop valued at $1,522, a watch valued at $449.81 and a mobile telephone valued at $1,288. He was arrested after he tried to buy a bracelet valued at $2,728.01.
2) Complexity of the scheme
Courts may also mete out higher sentences if the scheme to cheat is complex. This was the case in Ong Tiong Poh v PP, where the High Court increased a cheating offender’s jail term from 42 to 60 months. This was because the offender was part of a sophisticated syndicate that was capable of committing credit card fraud on a large scale and was skilled at avoiding detection.
3) Value of the item/quantum of the sum of money cheated
Generally, the higher the value of the item or the quantum of the sum of money cheated, the heavier the sentence can be.
Mitigating factors resulting in lighter sentences
It must be noted that each case will be assessed based on its facts. Therefore, the presence of an aggravating factor will not necessarily mean that a sentence is automatically increased. It will depend on whether there are mitigating factors as well.
1) The accused did not cheat for his or any other person’s personal gain
In the case of Seaward III Frederick v PP, the offender inflated the prices of audio-visual equipment purchased under a hire-purchase agreement in order to cheat a finance company. The offender was sentenced to only 1 day’s imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for the offence of abetting a conspiracy to carry out aggravated cheating. This was because he did not cheat for his or anyone else’s personal gain.
2) The victim did not suffer a loss
Another mitigating factor is where the victim was unlikely to have suffered a loss. In the case of Edmund Nathan v PP, the offender cheated a bank by overstating the purchase price of a property when applying for a bank loan.
The High Court imposed a nominal imprisonment sentence of 1 day and a $10,000 fine, reasoning that the cheating did not cause the property’s actual value to be diminished and the victim was unlikely to have suffered any loss.
3) The offender has already been penalised for the same conduct
Yet another mitigating factor is where the offender has already been penalised by another disciplinary tribunal. In Edmund Nathan v PP, the offender, who was a lawyer, had already received disciplinary action (a fine of $3,000) from the disciplinary tribunal of the Law Society. The High Court, therefore, viewed this prior punishment as a mitigating factor when deciding his sentence.
4) Making restitution
Another mitigating factor is if the offender has made restitution to the victim. By making restitution, the accused person will not be gaining financially from the offence and this is generally considered a mitigating factor.
5) Past criminal record of the accused person
Courts will be likely to grant a lighter sentence if the offender has no past criminal record. Additionally, courts may even consider the national service records for Singapore males where a good record would serve as a mitigating factor.
Will People Convicted of Cheating have a Criminal Record?
Yes, people convicted of cheating will have a criminal record.
However, they may still have the opportunity to have their criminal record treated as spent. This simply means that their record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having their record spent, the offender must first meet the following criteria:
- If they were given a prison sentence, their imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If they were given a fine, the fine imposed must have been not more than $2,000;
- They must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- They must not have any previous spent record on the register.
If they meet these criteria, the offender then has to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of his release from prison, or from the date that his sentence was passed if he had been given a fine. Once the offender accomplishes this, his record will be spent automatically, and he will be able to legally declare that he does not have a criminal record.
Is Cheating/Aggravated Cheating an Arrestable Offence?
Cheating and aggravated cheating are both arrestable offences. This means that the police can arrest alleged cheating offenders without a warrant.
For cheating, the offender can choose to be released on bail and/or personal bond once arrested.
However, for aggravated cheating, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release the offender on bail.
Recourse for Cheating
Making a police report
If you are a victim of cheating, you may make a police report::
- At a police station;
- Online, through the Singapore Police Force website; or
- By calling the “999” police emergency line.
The police will conduct further investigations and the accused person may be charged in court if there is sufficient incriminating evidence.
Recourse through the criminal courts
In situations where you have been cheated of your property or money, the court may order the offender to make compensation to you. However, this does not automatically mean that the property or money you were cheated of can or will be recovered and returned to you.
Recourse through the civil courts
Alternatively, you may file a civil claim against the accused person to recover your money. Even if damages were awarded at the criminal courts, you may still commence civil proceedings against the accused person.
It is recommended that you engage a civil litigation lawyer to assess the merits of your case before you proceed with commencing a suit against the accused person yourself.
Alternatively, if you have been accused of committing a cheating offence, consider engaging a lawyer to advise you on your options and assist with your case. This can include contesting the charge if you believe that you are innocent, or pleading guilty and negotiating for a lighter sentence.
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