A joint operation between Malaysian and Singapore police has netted 27 suspects in Malaysia believed to have been part of Internet love scam syndicates.
Thirteen Nigerian nationals were among those arrested in the three-day operation from Feb 6 to 8 involving Malaysia's Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) and Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), according to a statement by the Singapore Police Force.
The suspects are believed to have been behind 108 scams and to have cheated their victims in the two countries out of about RM21.6 million (S$6.9 million), the statement said. Telecommunication devices, computers and ATM cards were also seized.
In Singapore, the CAD was investigating six female suspects in connection with transferring criminal proceeds to Malaysia-based suspects, the statement said.
The bulk of the victims' money - RM20.7 million - came from 43 cases in Singapore, according to Malaysian police.
"Online scams are increasingly complex and transnational in nature," CAD director David Chew said at a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
"To the criminals who think that they could hide behind the cloak of anonymity provided by the Internet to perpetrate fraud, we want to send a deterrent message that crime does not pay," he added.
Mr Chew also thanked his Malaysian counterpart Sani Abdullah Sani and CCID officers for their "strong support".
Yesterday's announcement came after Singapore police said last Friday that Internet love scams hit an all-time high last year with 636 cases, up from 385 in 2015. Victims were cheated out of $24 million, double the $12 million in 2015. The largest amount from a single victim was $1.7 million.
Malaysian police said that the scams were masterminded by Nigerians in the country who were on student visas, and they preyed on victims they had befriended on social media and online chat apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat and Tagged.
The conmen also made use of Malaysian women, into whose bank accounts money from the victims was deposited. The women were also asked to pose as a representative from a courier service or as a Customs officer.
Last year, the Malaysian High Commissioner in Nigeria told a Nigerian news outlet that 13,000 Nigerians were in Malaysia on student visas.
According to a Reuters report in 2014, American women, too, were targets of Internet scammers based in Malaysia, with losses amounting to several million US dollars annually.
Correction note: In our earlier story, we said eleven Nigerian nationals were among those arrested in the three-day operation. The updated figure was actually 13.