Kidnapping Scam Fooled Family Into Paying Gambling Debts

Tied hands in kidnapping

30-second summary

  • Singaporean property agent scammed money from his clients
  • Escaped to Malaysia to gamble the stolen money
  • Racked up further debt and forced to fake his own kidnapping
  • Pleads to his family to pay the “ransom”

Joe Tan Kia Hian has been jailed for crimes he committed to fund his gambling addiction, including faking his kidnapping. After scamming his clients out of thousands of Singaporean dollars, his sister advised him to seek counselling.

Instead, he escaped to Malaysia, where he continued to gamble and borrowed what he could. After losing the money, he fabricated his kidnapping in exchange for a ransom to free him from his debts.

Property agent targeted clients

How far would you go to fund your gambling debts? Joe Tan Kia Hian, 41, certainly pushed the boundaries by faking his own kidnapping in the hope that his family would pay off what he owed. He first stole from his own clients before siphoning off cash from his family, including his father who was battling cancer.

This week, the 41-year-old property agent was sentenced to 23 months in jail after pleading guilty to nine charges of criminal breach of trust, cheating, and forgery for the purpose of cheating. A further 18 similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing. He has not had to pay any money back to those from whom he stole.

Hian committed his first crimes in February 2017, when he acted as a property agent for a Ms Teo and her two tenants as she arranged a lease for her property in Geylang.

Hian was found to have doctored the tenancy agreements. This enabled him to pocket a S$200 difference in rent each month and a higher deposit than what was required. As the tenants deposited the money straight into his account his plan was to withhold the difference. On two occasions he withheld the S$2,600 from each tenant in its entirety.

He next withheld S$4,600 given to him by one landlord and another S$4,100 from a different landlord under the guise of rental fees.

The kidnapping scam

Hian, however, had been spending the money gambling. He left his home in Singapore and fled to Genting Highlands, Malaysia.

From there, he sent his sister a text that said he wanted to “start afresh somewhere in the world,” as he didn’t want to be labelled a convict and find himself behind bars. He pleaded for his family’s support as he claimed he “only (had) a small window to leave.”

While in Malaysia he borrowed from a  money-lending syndicate, who gave him 30,000 ringgit ($7,374). He continued to borrow more to fulfil table requirements and promptly lost it all.

With nothing to offer, he was accompanied by two men from the money-lending syndicate back to his hotel room. On a suggestion from one of them, Hian told his family that he had been kidnapped and needed money for the ransom.

“Chop his fingers off”

On March 13, on their word, Hian sent messages via WhatsApp to his wife and father, claiming he had been kidnapped. He told them his kidnappers demanded 100,000 ringgit ($24,600) in exchange for his freedom, or they would kill him or chop his fingers off.

In response, his wife made a police report and the Royal Malaysia Police were informed.

By March 15, his worried wife transferred S$5,000 to a UOB bank account. Hian contacted his sister – he claimed that every 30 minutes past the deadline his kidnappers would cut off one finger until the total amount had been paid.

To build the authenticity of the story, one of the runners sent threatening text messages in Chinese on Hian’s phone to the sister. Over the next two days she sent sums totalling S$21,000 with money from Hian’s own father, who was suffering from bladder cancer.

On March 17 Hian was arrested around 1am at a casino by Malaysian police and sent back to Singapore.

In total, he had stolen S$88,200 ($65,420.56).

Nothing short of appalling

In his defence, Hian’s lawyer Vikram Ranjan Ramasamy claimed that the man had previously had a good reputation and been a successful property agent in previous years. However, he had lost his investments and found himself with $300,000 of debt.

Ranjan said: “He borrowed from licensed moneylenders and resorted to gambling, but this only worsened his financial situation and he was saddled with more debt.”

He appealed for sympathy for his client, stating: “It was due to sheer desperation that he committed the (Geylang) offences.”

He claimed that Hian was a “filial son,” after paying for his father’s cancer treatment with his own money and the Central Provident Fund contributions. Ranjan informed the court of Hian’s intention to seek counselling for his gambling addiction.

On jailing him, District Judge Ong Luan Tze stated that Hian’s “conduct as a property agent, son, husband and brother was nothing short of appalling.”

She added: “I hope for the sake of your family that your remorse is genuine.”

Hian failed to repay any of the funds to those he had stolen from.