SINGAPORE: Struggling to pay the bills, a Shopee delivery driver decided to trick interested tenants into listing his apartment for rent on Carousell.
Lee Chee Tiong, 41, collected more than S$17,000 in rent from eight victims who were urgently looking for accommodation, without renting his house to them at all.
Lee was sentenced to 10 months in prison on Tuesday (January 18) for his crimes. He pleaded guilty to three cheating offenses, with five other counts considered.
The court heard that Lee earned more than S$3,000 a month as a delivery driver and lived with his wife in an apartment in Bedok.
After facing financial troubles, he placed an ad on Carousell offering to rent his unit at Bedok North Avenue 2 for S$1,550 per month.
Several people responded to his ad. One, an Indian national living with his wife and daughter, asked to see the unit.
Lee let the family see his apartment, before having the victim sign a written rental agreement he had prepared.
The victim transferred S$3,000 to Lee on January 19 last year via PayNow for the security deposit and one month’s rent.
Lee said he would submit the details to the Housing Board for registration the next day and it would take three working days to process.
The victim repeatedly checked with Lee about the registration status, but Lee gave him an apology and demanded more rent in advance.
Eventually, the victim demanded the cancellation of the rental contract and the refund of his money. He later filed a police report as he found the case “strange”.
Lee then made a partial restitution of S$1,200 to this victim in December 2021 and January this year. However, he made no restitution to any of his other victims.
When Lee was questioned by police in February last year, he admitted he had never intended to rent out his flat.
He advertised it on Carousell only to raise funds for his own use, including paying off his debts to loan sharks. He said he Googled rental agreement templates and printed them out for his victims to sign.
ANXIETY AND INCONVENIENCE CAUSED TO VICTIMS: PROSECUTOR
The prosecutor called for 10 to 12 months in prison for Lee, saying he defrauded eight victims of a substantial sum of S$17,250.
“In doing so, he also caused considerable inconvenience and anxiety to them and their families, including young children,” she said.
Many victims visited the apartment with their family members and expected to move in at short notice. Some of the victims didn’t even realize they had been cheated on until police contacted them and were still waiting to move in, the prosecutor said.
Defense lawyer Riko Isaac Chua has asked for no more than 10 months in prison, saying his client finds it “very difficult” to support his family as the sole breadwinner.
Lee borrowed from approved and unapproved lenders and tried to think of ways to repay his creditors, Chua said.
“He tried to rent out his house but (…) due to the huge response he was getting regarding rental inquiries, he then realized that he could trick money seekers by using this method,” the attorney said.
“Obviously he did it out of financial desperation with a sense of having to find ways to support his family.”
The judge said there was a clear public interest in deterring such rental scams, noting that Lee even went so far as to prepare rental contracts to deceive his victims.
He allowed Lee to defer his sentence to February 8.