Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
You might have heard about shelves of infant milk powder being locked up by supermarkets to prevent thefts. It has been reported that the milk powder stolen is then resold on online marketplaces for profit.
But are you aware of the consequences of buying stolen milk powder from online marketplaces? Can you be prosecuted even if you are unaware that the milk powder had been stolen?
This article will cover the penalties for purchasing stolen goods in Singapore and highlight some precautions you can take to avoid inadvertently buying stolen goods. It will discuss:
- Whether it is against the law to buy stolen goods
- The penalties for buying stolen goods
- The penalties for sellers who sell stolen goods
- The best practices buyers should take note of to avoid purchasing items that are likely to be stolen
- What are some practical steps buyers should take if they realise they have bought a stolen item
Is It Against the Law to Buy Stolen Goods?
Yes, it is a criminal offence to purchase stolen goods in Singapore. This is so even if you are unaware that the goods have been stolen.
In some cases, even if you are unaware of the fact that you are purchasing stolen goods, you may have reason to suspect that the item has indeed been stolen from elsewhere. If you do not exercise due diligence by conducting checks despite having suspicions about the source of the product, you would have committed a criminal offence, making you liable for prosecution.
For example, if you are purchasing an item from the online marketplace Carousell and it is listed at an incredibly low price that seems too good to be true, you would have reason to suspect the source of the product. The low price of the item could be an indicator that it might have been stolen or procured illegally, and you would have the responsibility of conducting further checks before proceeding to purchase the item.
In such a situation, examples of due diligence could include chatting with the seller to inquire about the source of the item and reporting suspicious listings to Carousell directly so that they can conduct the relevant investigations.
Do note that whether there is reason to suspect that an item has been stolen is highly dependent on the facts of each individual case. As mentioned above, an item listed on an online marketplace that is priced significantly lower than the market rate could be a sign that it has been stolen or obtained illegally.
In contrast, an item that appears to be sourced legitimately (i.e. being priced at market rate by verified sellers) would likely not raise any suspicions. In such cases, buyers have no reason to suspect the product and can be said to genuinely believe in the legitimacy of the item. Where buyers have no reason to believe that the item has been stolen, they would most likely not be held liable for buying it.
What are the Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods?
According to section 411(1) of the Penal Code, those who buy stolen goods despite knowing that they have been stolen or having reason to believe that they have been stolen could face imprisonment for up to 5 years, a fine, or both.
If the stolen item in question is a motor vehicle, the buyer could face imprisonment for up to 5 years and a fine. Additionally, the buyer could also be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence.
As for what constitutes stolen goods, section 410(1) of the Penal Code states that “stolen property” includes items that have been obtained by theft, extortion, robbery, criminal misappropriation, criminal breach of trust and cheating. Hence, tins of infant milk powder stolen from supermarkets would clearly fall under this category since they have been obtained via theft.
The following are other examples of cases where offenders have been penalised for stealing items and subsequently selling them:
- A former engineer stole $62,000 worth of electronic devices such as laptops, iPads, monitors, docking stations and power adaptors from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which was his workplace at the time of the offence. He then sold some of the stolen goods on Carousell, raking in approximately $28,000. He was ordered by the court to return the stolen goods to their rightful owners and sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment.
- A domestic worker stole a watch worth around $1,000 from her employer and put it up for sale on Carousell. She was eventually discovered by her employer and the court sentenced her to 7 months’ imprisonment.
What are the Penalties For Sellers Who Sell Stolen Goods?
Sellers who sell stolen goods might be subject to harsher penalties as compared to buyers of such goods. According to section 413 of the Penal Code, people who habitually deal in property that they know or have reason to believe is stolen property could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment, along with a fine.
In addition, it is important to note that stealing is in itself a criminal offence under section 378 of the Penal Code, and it could warrant criminal prosecution. Offenders could face imprisonment of up to 3 years, a fine, or both. To find out more about the offence of theft, do refer to our article which covers the penalties for committing theft in Singapore.
Furthermore, online shopping platforms and marketplaces often have their own measures in place to regulate listings and ensure the legitimacy of sellers. For example, Carousell prohibits sellers from offering stolen items for sale, and the company has stated that it will not hesitate to take action such as suspending accounts of sellers upon detecting stolen goods being sold on the platform.
Under Lazada’s Protection Policy, the platform has stated that it reserves the right to prevent payment from being released to sellers who are being investigated for suspected fraud, abuse or illegal activity. As for Shopee, which also prohibits the sale of stolen goods, sellers may be subject to a range of sanctions such as the deletion of listings, limits placed on account privileges, suspension of accounts and even legal action.
Are There Any Best practices For Buyers to Take Note of to Avoid Purchasing Goods That are Likely to be Stolen?
With the sheer number of listings on online marketplaces and shopping platforms, it can be difficult to discern the legitimacy of such items. Here are some practical measures that you can take to guard against accidentally purchasing stolen goods online:
- When shopping online, check out the seller’s ratings and reviews before making purchases. Sellers with a substantial number of poor reviews or no reviews at all could be “red flags” indicating suspicious activity.
- Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. As mentioned above, if an item costs significantly lower than the market rate, it could come from dubious sources.
- Stay up to date with recent news on stolen goods. Alternatively, if you have reason to suspect that certain goods might be stolen, you could do a quick search online to check whether there have been any recently reported thefts regarding the item in question or alerts issued by the relevant manufacturers.
What are Some Practical Steps Buyers Should Take If They Realise They have Purchased Stolen Goods?
If you discover that you have inadvertently purchased a stolen item, you should first attempt to gather as much information about the transaction and seller as possible. For example, if the transaction had taken place on Carousell, note down the seller’s username, listing details and other relevant information, and take screenshots of your chat history with the seller. If you had met up with the seller in person, try to recall the seller’s physical appearance, or any other defining features that could be useful in identifying the seller.
You can then file a report with the relevant online platform. Carousell has a “Report User” and a “Report Listing” function in their mobile application, enabling you to quickly inform them about fraudulent transactions.
Since buying and selling stolen goods is a criminal offence as explained above, you should also report the matter to the police without undue delay and provide them with the evidence you have gathered. The police will look into the potential criminal offences disclosed and seize the item if necessary. Upon investigation, the police may then seek an order from the court to return the item to the victim and the offender may be prosecuted accordingly.
To conclude, buying and selling stolen goods are criminal offences in Singapore. Buyers of stolen goods could be committing an offence even if they are unaware that the items in question have been stolen. Hence, it is important to exercise caution, especially when shopping online.
If you have been charged with the offence of purchasing stolen goods, it is advisable to consult a criminal lawyer who can assess the situation and provide guidance on the merits of your case, along with the next steps to take.
Do refer to our list of highly rated criminal lawyers in Singapore to start your search. You can also use our Find a Lawyer service to assist you in finding a criminal lawyer that best suits your needs.
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