Guide to Sentencing for Cheating and Scamming Offences in Singapore

Guide to Sentencing for Cheating and Scamming Offences in Singapore


In Singapore, cheating and scamming offences are taken very seriously, with the legal framework providing detailed guidelines for sentencing offenders. This guide provides an overview of the relevant laws, sentencing principles, and factors considered by the courts when determining appropriate sentences for such crimes.

Legal Framework

Cheating offences in Singapore are primarily governed by sections 417 and 420 of the Penal Code (Cap 224). The distinction between these two sections lies in the severity and nature of the offence:

Section 417: This section deals with simple cheating, where the punishment can be imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both.

Section 420: This section addresses aggravated cheating, which involves more severe or premeditated deceit. Offenders can face imprisonment for up to ten years and may also be subject to a fine.

Sentencing Principles

When determining sentences, Singapore courts consider four key principles:

  1. Deterrence: This principle aims to discourage the offender and the general public from committing similar crimes. It is often the dominant principle in cases involving premeditated and professional fraud, as well as crimes that impact public institutions and safety.
  2. Retribution: This principle focuses on ensuring that the punishment reflects the severity of the crime. It emphasizes that offenders must pay for their actions to restore the balance of justice disrupted by their misconduct.
  3. Prevention: Also known as incapacitation, this principle seeks to protect society by removing the offender from the public to prevent further crimes. This is particularly relevant for repeat offenders.
  4. Rehabilitation: This principle is based on the idea that offenders can be reformed through appropriate treatment and training. It is particularly emphasized for young offenders under the age of 21, where the goal is to address underlying issues and reintegrate them into society as law-abiding citizens.

Factors Influencing Sentencing

Several factors influence the court’s sentencing decisions for cheating and scamming offences:

Nature and Scale of the Offence: The extent of the deceit and the amount involved play a significant role. For example, larger-scale scams or those involving multiple victims typically attract harsher penalties.

Restitution: If the offender has made restitution to the victims, it is considered a mitigating factor, potentially leading to a lighter sentence. Restitution shows that the offender is taking responsibility and attempting to rectify the harm caused.

Criminal Record: An offender’s past criminal record is crucial. First-time offenders may receive lighter sentences, whereas repeat offenders are likely to face harsher penalties to prevent further crimes.

Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances: Factors such as the offender’s intent, cooperation with law enforcement, and impact on victims are carefully considered. Aggravating circumstances, such as a high degree of premeditation or significant financial harm to victims, will result in stricter sentences.

Case Examples and Precedents

A company director who deceived clients with false information to enter contracts was charged under Section 417 and received nine months’ imprisonment for two counts of cheating, with full restitution ordered.

A bartender used a customer’s credit card details to purchase an air ticket. Despite making restitution, he received two months’ imprisonment due to the premeditated nature of his actions and plans to profit from multiple fraudulent transactions.

The following sentencing precedents may also  be helpful:

The sentencing precedents suggest that for the amounts involving cheating of $1,000 to about $3,000, sentences of about three to four months’ imprisonment are the norm. We note that the offenders in Ong Kian Siong and Kankanamge were untraced, but nevertheless received sentences within this range.

Taking reference from the comments by the High Court and the District Court respectively in Gopalakrishnan and Roy Teo, starting point of 12 months’ imprisonment in relation to an amount of approximately $14,000 in the  would be appropriate. This is especially in cases where the offenders were untraced.


The District Court in Chua Tian Xiang noted that rental scams are particularly egregious. It is worth highlighting the learned District Judge’s comments:

“20         Housing is one of the most basic aspects of everyday living. Everyone needs housing and at any time, there will always be a segment of the public that requires rental accommodation. The prospective tenant could be a student, a worker, a local, a foreigner or just someone who needs a roof over the head. When a prospective tenant engages a housing agent with the expectation of procuring a place to stay, pays a rental deposit and then tries to move into the rental premises but only to discover that the premises is not available for rent, the experience can be extremely traumatic. Indeed, it can be a nightmare.

21          There can be no doubt that rental scam is a particularly egregious form of cheating. The offence is all the more reprehensible when it is committed by a housing agent. Apart from monetary losses, victims of rental scams are subject to great inconvenience, anxiety and uncertainty. In some cases, they may even find themselves stranded without a place to go. Where the victims are foreigners, such offences may also hurt and tarnish the reputation of Singapore.

22          In my view, rental scam raises a public policy concern. Clearly, there is a need to ensure that such offences are checked and deterred. A deterrent sentence is warranted to convey the clear message that such offences will not be condoned and will be dealt with firmly.”

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