Surge in online scams in first half of year

Credit-for-sex cases, e-commerce cheating and Internet love scams reasons for spike

Commercial crime cases are on the rise in Singapore, with a surge in "credit-for-sex" offences.

Mid-year statistics released by the police yesterday show overall crime went up by 6.7 per cent in the first six months of this year, compared with the same period last year. From January to June, there were 16,575 cases, up from 15,531 for that period last year.

Some 627 credit-for-sex cases - a trend which emerged in the second half of last year - were recorded in the first six months of this year, with victims cheated of about $1.6 million. The scams involve men being asked by seemingly attractive women on social media platforms to buy gift cards and online credits for sexual services, which the men do not get.

There were also 402 more cases of cheating involving e-commerce in the first half of the year, a rise of almost two-thirds from the same period last year.

Internet love scams also went up by over 50 per cent, with victims handing over some $3.8 million.

Experts said that the rise in such crimes could be due to more online transactions. Mr Aloysius Cheang, Asia-Pacific managing director of global computing security association Cloud Security Alliance, said: "People are embracing e-commerce, but many may not have the necessary knowledge of how to protect themselves."

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said finding love on the Internet is an "attractive option for time-stressed adults", but there are a lot of opportunities for fraudsters to make empty promises. She added: "If you go to an accredited dating agency, you can be more assured that you will not be cheated.

"Perhaps we need to encourage more of such social networking services online and accredit the platforms, so members can be assured that people they get to know are not going to take advantage of them."

Police noted that the rising trend of online crime is a cause for concern and said it will step up on outreach efforts.

It also urged the public to be alert and "exercise due diligence".

Commercial Affairs Department director David Chew said: "While the police will do all it can to investigate, deter and disrupt the activities of these criminals, the public has an important role to play."

National Crime Prevention Council chairman Tan Kian Hoon said: "Remind (friends and loved ones) to take a step back and think through what is being proposed to them online.

"If something is too good to be true, it probably is."

Violent or serious property crimes were down by 44.4 per cent in the first half of this year, while unlicensed moneylending and harassment was down by a quarter.

Cyber-extortion cases plunged by about 73 per cent and outrage of modesty cases dipped by about 5 per cent. Youth crime figures also fell. Police public affairs department covering director Senior Assistant Commissioner Tan Hung Hooi said: "The police will work hand in hand with the community and key stakeholders to ensure that Singapore continues to be a safe home for everyone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Surge in online scams in first half of year'. Print Edition | Subscribe