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Gone in 20 minutes: Woman loses $30k after installing fake shopping app on phone

She wanted to make a payment of $30, but ended up losing $30,000 after some scammers took control of her phone. 

The woman, who wanted to be known as Zheng, told Lianhe Zaobao she saw an Instagram advertisement for a retail app on May 21.

The advertisement stated that customers who made any purchase on their platform would receive a free blender worth $80. 

Enticed by the offer, the 30-year-old admin staff clicked on a link to download the app on her mobile phone, and was directed to WhatsApp, where she was given instructions on how to do so.

On May 25, Zheng ordered some fruits and vegetables on the app, which cost a total of $30. As she was about to link her PayLah! account to the app to make payment, she encountered several errors. 

She sought help by contacting the platform's "staff" on WhatsApp, and was told to try a few more times as the app was buggy. 

Just as the woman was about to try again, her phone automatically shut down. When the device restarted, she realised it was being remotely controlled by someone else.


"I saw the phone's interface sliding left and right. I tried to use my phone to call the bank, but the call was cut off. I couldn't stop the payment authorisation, or terminate the transactions," she told the Chinese daily. 

Over the next 20 minutes, Zheng watched in horror as the scammers made six fund transfers from her bank account, taking out about $5,000 from her bank account each time. 

Zheng lost $29,877.09 in total. 

She subsequently turned off her phone, and used her home phone to contact the bank and the police. 

The police confirmed with Zaobao that a report had been lodged. 

Malware alert 

In February this year, DBS released an advisory to warn customers of Android malware, which may hide in apps on Google Play store, or in social media posts. 

The Android app then asks for permissions to download other malicious apps and browse through an infected phone without approval. Scammers can then control the device to steal sensitive information and approve fund transfers. 

To protect against such malware, users are advised to: 

  • Be cautious of attachments, QR codes or links to apps in unsolicited emails, messages or social media posts. 
  • Only download apps from the official Apple App Store and Google Play Store 
  • Avoid jailbreaking or rooting devices, as these make them an easier target for malware. 

READ ALSO: Gone in 2 hours: Retiree loses $70k in life savings after installing fake Google Play app on phone

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