Hossain is angry. He is among a group of Bangledeshi workers scammed out of around S$250,000 by an elaborate ruse to lure desperate migrants into overseas jobs that don’t exist.

It’s happened many times before. A group of more than 50 Bangledeshi workers – Hossain among them – were duped into handing over instalments of cash back in 2009 for fake positions within Canadian companies.

Today they are still chasing the perpetrator to pay them back.

Between June and July 2009 each of the men made payments – called process fees – of between S$3,500-S$5,000 to Osman (not his real name), who said he represented an employment agency looking for staff for the Grand Hotel & Suites in Toronto and two construction companies in Alberta.

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They were told the jobs would pay a total of S$4,350 per month – a sizeable boost on their average monthly construction wage of S$700 in Singapore – and involved a laundry list of entitlements for workers keen to make more money overseas.

Included in the fake hotel contract Hossain signed on September 9th, 2010, almost a year after paying his process fee of S$3,750, was the promise of quarterly performance bonuses of up to 3% of annual salary. He would work a six-hour day and would get 15% extra pay for overtime.

The three fake companies were said to be hunting for positions ranging from construction workers, labourers to admin clerks and maintenance staff.

Part of the elaborate recruitment process involved interviews and fake contracts, written on forged letter heads. The ruse went as far as drafting in a fake Canadian businessman – a partner in the scam – whom the men met more than once at the Hotel Miramar in Chinatown.

“We met a Chinese man who sounded Canadian,” Hossain says, “he told us to wait for six months, and assured us that the job existed.”

His role in the scam was to convince dubious workers to stick with their overseas dream – a cruel ploy to essentially buy some more time to complete the scam.

“We think ‘if we pay faster, we’ll get to go faster’,” Hossain tells me, when I ask him why workers paid up – in cash – so quickly.

He wasn’t to know. For men desperate to improve their livelihoods, the offer was too good to refuse.

Hossain signed a contract for the position of Personal Clerk at the Grand Hotel & Suites in Toronto. After three months, he heard nothing back from the company and in the intervening weeks, months and years since then he has been chasing shadows for reimbursement.

Certainly, part of the problem lies in the speed with which job opportunities proliferate through the Bangledeshi community in Singapore and the level of trust placed on referals by migrant workers. Hossain was recommended the job by a friend who worked for his construction company. He had no reason not to believe him, or Osman.

“I believed him [Osman] because many of my Bangledeshi friends had already given him money; they said this was a good job,” he tells me.

On top of the knowledge that he was taken advantage of, Hossain is angry also because he knows that Osman remains at large and is, remarkably, within phone contact.

When I meet a group of five men who fell prey to this scam at Isthana Restaurant in Little India they show me text messages from Osman. Over the two years since the scam groups of workers have contacted him via text messages and phone calls.

In response to their desperate attempts to get their money back, in February 2011 he hastily organised a meeting at an office in Boon Keng, where he attempted to reassure them that they would all be compensated. From previous cases such as this in Singapore, the perpetrators have claimed ignorance as a defence of their elaborate schemes. But false documentation puts paid to this defence. Luring migrant workers into fake job scams is lucrative: huge amounts of money are being exchanged, trading on their desperation.

Hossain retrieving messages from ‘Osman’

Hossain says Osman regularly switches offices – he has appeared in Boon Keng, Sengkang and Buangkok to discuss paying back the workers.

One of his recent text messages says: “I told you that I am trying to clear you in one sort. Please wait and see what I can do for you.”

But Hossain has heard this before. “He says he will give it [our money] back to us in three months and nothing happens. I don’t believe him.”

To date only two men have seen any of their money returned – both contacted Osman when they found out their parents were ill to plead for a payment to be able to return home to be with them. One man was given S$3,000 and another received S$2,000.

Hossain estimates the total loss to migrant workers at between $S150,000 and S$200,000, but he says that many more than 50 men may have been duped, which could make the total loss at around S$250,000.

A.K.M Mohsin, Chief Editor and CEO of Banglar Kantha, a Bangledeshi newspaper based in Singapore, says that he has spoken to Osman recently to plead for money to be returned to migrant workers.

“This isn’t the only case,” says Mohsin, “it has happened many times before and local NGOs are taking this very seriously, because a lot of workers are losing their hard-earned money.”

According to Hossain, Osman is educated and confident, “he’s very polite and he has the capacity to con people,” adding that while he has agreed to compensate the workers by March 2012, that’s three months too much for Hossain.

TWC2 has requested an interview with Osman for his side of the story and is awaiting a reply.