Internet love scams double, even as overall crime rate dips

Figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs showed there were 298 cases of internet love scams in the first half of this year where victims were cheated of money while looking for love or friendship online.
Figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs showed there were 298 cases of internet love scams in the first half of this year where victims were cheated of money while looking for love or friendship online.PHOTO: ST FILE

Women form majority of victims cheated of money while looking for love online, says MHA

Be careful when you make friends online - the number of Internet love scams has nearly doubled.

It spiked in the first half of this year, even as the overall crime rate dipped slightly.

Figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) showed there were 298 cases in the first half of the year in which victims were cheated of money while looking for love or friendship online, almost double the 150 cases in the same period last year. A majority - 87 per cent - of victims were women.

E-commerce cheating also increased slightly, from 1,010 cases in the first half of last year, to 1,145 in the same period this year.

These scams were flagged by the MHA yesterday as online crimes continue to be a concern for the police, its rise over the past few years pushing up annual crimestatistics.

In a statement yesterday, the MHA said the police would continue to take a "multi-pronged approach of tough enforcement action, community partnership and public education" to combat online crimes.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP in Nee Soon GRC, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law, said public education campaigns would help lower the incidence of such crimes, but the challenge is to get the message out to everyone.

"While we increase our efforts, the scammers are also intensifying their efforts," said Mr Ng. "I always tell my residents, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it can't be true."

Mr Desmond Choo, an MP in Tampines GRC, said the police could share news of scams with residents using platforms such as WhatsApp. "Our enforcement units need to inoculate residents by spreading awareness through grassroots networks and units such as the Pioneer Generation Office," said Mr Choo, who is also on the GPC for Home Affairs and Law.

One victim of an e-commerce scam said Internet users should exercise caution dealing with people online. The 23-year-old ITE student had transferred $400 after seeing an online advertisement offering a new iPhone 6 at that price.

But after the sum was transferred, the scammer asked for a further $350 to deliver the phone. The victim declined to pay the additional charge and made a police report.

The buyer, who declined to be named, said Internet users should ask for the credentials of anonymous sellers if they claim to be from reputed companies.

But there appear to be signs people wising up. Credit-for-sex scams, which emerged in late 2014, with numbers exploding thereafter, are decreasing. There were 440 such cases in the first half of the year, compared with 632 in the same period last year.

Other areas of concern include an increase in the number of calls for emergency medical services and the number of new drug abusers under 30 (see report on right).

Law and order remained under control, but Singapore continues to face various threats, especially terrorism, said the MHA, adding that the SGSecure national movement will be launched next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Internet love scams double, even as overall crime rate dips'. Print Edition | Subscribe