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Singapore saw an 80 per cent increase in scams during 2020

Total amount cheated was S$254.3 million, which is a 64.3 per cent increase compared to 2019

In a reply to Parliamentary Question on how the police tracks its performance in investigating and solving crimes involving online scams, K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law stated police have taken a number of steps to try and deal with scams.

“One example is the formation of the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) in June 2019, which acts as a nerve centre for investigations into scam-related crimes. The ASC’s focus is to mitigate victims’ losses, through the interdiction of the proceeds of crime,” he noted.

According to Minister Shanmugam the Police have tracked the number of money mules investigated, number of scammers arrested, number of bank accounts frozen, and the number of monies that have been recovered.

These are reported in Police’s Annual Crime Brief and as of 17 December 2020, more than 14,000 reports involving total losses of more than S$162.2 million have been referred to the ASC. The ASC has frozen more than 11,200 bank accounts and recovered about S$57.7 million. Where the monies had already been transferred out of Singapore the recovery is more difficult.

In cases where the bank accounts of recipients of scam monies have been frozen by the authorities in Singapore, the monies are seized as proceeds of crime. The investigation officer will typically apply for a disposal order from the Courts after ascertaining that the money indeed belongs to the victim in question. While there is no fixed timeline for this process, under Section 370 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the officer must make a report to the Court within one year after the date of seizure of the monies, or when the monies are no longer relevant for the purposes of any investigation or trial, whichever is earlier. However, should the monies still be relevant for the purposes of investigation or trial, or if there is any pending court proceeding, the Court cannot dispose of the monies and the monies cannot be returned to the victims yet.

The application of a disposal order entails the authorities satisfying the Courts that a crime did take place, that the seized monies are proceeds of crime traceable to that identified crime, and lastly, that the victim concerned is the rightful owner of those seized monies. This process may be delayed where:

  • Information or evidence is required from foreign authorities, such as in transnational scams
  • The seized monies have been moved across multiple accounts
  • There is a commingling of monies related with an offence, with monies that are not
  • Where there are multiple claims from various parties to the same seized property, in which case a disposal inquiry may have to be convened for the Courts to determine who should be entitled to the seized monies.

Minister Shanmugam said the number of scams has been on the rise. In the first eleven months of 2020, there were around 14,960 cases of scams reported, which is an 80 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. The total amount lost to scams has also increased. In the first eleven months of 2020, the total amount cheated was S$254.3 million, which is a 64.3 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

“The rise in scams can be attributed to high internet penetration amongst our people. Many more Singaporeans are interacting and transacting online,” noted the Minister. “Criminal syndicates, many of whom operate outside Singapore, have been quick to exploit these trends.

A significant proportion of online scams reported are transnational in nature and are therefore particularly challenging to deal with. The investigations required will have to take place outside our jurisdiction, and cooperation from other countries will be needed.”

In the first week of January 2021, the Singapore Police have already issued a new variant of banking-related phishing scams observed since December 2020, where scammers impersonate as government officials.

Members of the public who have fallen victim to such phishing scams would receive phone calls or messages purportedly from government agencies such as the Singapore Police Force or Ministry of Manpower, claiming that there were some issues with the victims’ bank accounts and that they would need to verify their banking or personal particulars such as internet banking login credentials, NRIC number/ FIN and One-Time-Passwords (OTPs) to resolve these issues. The victims would realise that they had been scammed when they discovered unauthorised transactions made from their accounts.

The Police would like to highlight that from January 2020 to June 2020, close to 900 cases of banking-related phishing scams were reported, with total losses amounting to more than S$3.6 million. In the same period in 2019, 34 cases of such scams were reported, with total losses amounting to more than S$93,000.

According to the Police, members of the public are advised to follow these crime prevention measures:

  • Don’t panic – Ignore the call and callers’ instructions. No government agency will request for personal details or bank account login details over the phone. Call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before you act as you may be overwhelmed by emotion and err in your judgement.
  • Don’t believe – Scammers may use caller ID spoofing technology to mask the actual phone numbers and display a different number. Calls that appear to be from local number may not actually be made from Singapore. From 15 April 2020, all incoming international calls will be prefixed with a plus (+) sign. Stay vigilant when receiving any unexpected international calls and reject those with spoof local numbers.
  • Don’t give – Never disclose your personal or Internet banking details and OTP to anyone.