Fake passports and foreign syndicates: the modern-day bank robbery

This is the modern-day bank robbery. A young nightclub promoter walks into an inner-city Bank of Melbourne branch and leaves with $30,000 cash that isn’t his.

No guns, no balaclavas. As promised, it was “easy money”. The teller had no idea that he’d simply withdrawn the funds from another person’s account. 

By the time anyone realised what Chan Seng Yee was up to, he’d hit up a string of banks across Melbourne and made off with more than $680,000 in 34 separate transactions.

Armed with a fake passport, he’d built a small fortune in a month with apparent ease. Although the money was not his to keep.

The “well orchestrated” fraud began last July, when the 22-year-old met a man believed to be a member of an international syndicate at Crown Casino. He was offering “fast cash”, about $30,000 in a month. 

Yee was struggling to make ends meet after coming to Australia from Malaysia on a student visa in 2013. So he agreed to assume someone else’s identity – to hand over a passport photo and to memorise a name, phone number, email address and date of birth.

The plan was to make off with $1 million in cash, which had recently been deposited into a Bank of Melbourne account. 

Yee was told the account’s owner was in on the racket and that he would be in Hong Kong when it all went down. He later claimed to have been threatened with a gun to take part.

The first withdrawal was on August 5, when Yee walked into the South Melbourne branch of the Bank of Melbourne and asked for $30,000 in cash.

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Claiming to have lost his mobile phone and wallet, he also requested a replacement bank card under the assumed identity.

As a way of spreading out the cash, he transferred large amounts to other accounts at Westpac and NAB.

Over the next month, Yee crossed Melbourne visiting various branches of the three banks, where he made 34 separate withdrawals. 

He would later tell police that he was driven to each branch by the person who recruited him.

In amounts up to $85,000, Yee was able to withdraw$680,605.82 in cash. None of this money has been recovered. 

The fraud was finally discovered when the owner of the bank account told the Bank of Melbourne Box Hill branch that his internet password had changed and that his bank card wouldn’t work at an ATM.

The bank reimbursed him the missing money. The County Court later heard that “grave suspicion” should fall on the account holder for what took place.

Yee had been caught on CCTV at Westpac and Bank of Melbourne branches 23 times. He was arrested and made full admissions. 

Yee was sentenced last month in the County Court to three years in prison with a non-parole period of 18 months for his role in the scam, for which he said he was paid $10,000.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception and one charge of obtaining property by deception. 

Judge Mark Taft described the scam as “sophisticated and carefully orchestrated” and said Yee’s role was integral.

“No other person has been charged by police,” he said.

The investigator of the scam, Detective Senior Constable Adam Burnett from Port Phillip CIU, said there was a “considerable rise” in similar bank frauds, particularly with the use of fake foreign passports. 

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“Visual examination of identity documents and archived signatures will greatly reduce these offences occurring in the future,” he said.

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