MAS-led task force reviewing how to apportion liability for online scams: Desmond Tan

Officers at the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre.
Officers at the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A task force led by Singapore's central bank is reviewing how to apportion the liability of a fraudulent online transaction between affected consumers and financial firms, said the Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has set up a task force with representatives from banks and key payment players to review practices that the financial industry can put in place to better protect consumers against scams and fraudulent transactions, he said on Thursday (July 8).

"This review will aim to provide fair, clear and consistent approaches for liability apportionment for fraudulent payment transactions," said Mr Tan at the Association of Banks in Singapore's (ABS) virtual Financial Crime Seminar.

Mr Tan, who also chairs the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS), said Singapore continues to see a significant rise in the number of scams.

Last year, more than 15,000 cases of scams, involving around $200 million of losses, were reported to the police - a 65 per cent increase from 2019.

To prevent bank customers from falling prey to scams, IMCS has worked closely with the ABS anti-scam task force, Mr Tan said.

For example, to fend off scammers' attempts to use various ruses and induce victims to share their one-time passwords (OTPs), ABS has been working with banks to include warning messages in their OTP messages and to enhance OTP verification processes through the use of digital tokens, he said.

IMCS and ABS are also working closely with banks to train their front-line staff to spot and disrupt scams.

Last year, front-line staff at banks intercepted 76 scam cases involving about $3 million in total, Mr Tan said.

To recover the losses of those who fall prey to scams, initiatives such as Project Frontier was launched as a collaboration between the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre and more than 30 financial institutions, online marketplaces and telecommunication service providers.

The project helps in swift interception of illicit proceeds from scams and facilitates fund recovery to the victims.

"Last year, more than $57 million in scam proceeds were recovered," Mr Tan said.

Singapore is also taking the initiative to disrupt the activities of money mules, who are an essential part of the modus operandi of scammers.

Another focus area for the Home Ministry is Singapore's anti-money laundering (AML) efforts and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) and proliferation financing - the provision of funds or financial services in contravention of national laws or international obligations.

The AML/CFT Industry Partnership (ACIP), a public-private partnership, has served as an important platform for MAS, the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department and the financial industry to collectively address money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation, the minister said.

The ACIP is planning efforts to more quickly and comprehensively inform the industry of the latest best practices and threats, including those outside ACIP jurisdiction.

ACIP is also planning to establish a new working group for the Government and the industry to monitor emerging risk areas and looking at more ways to support the industry's efforts to enhance its data and analytics capabilities.

"But we know the ACIP cannot do all this alone and I hope all industry members here today can step forward and contribute to ACIP where possible, so that we can collectively better protect ourselves from financial crime," Mr Tan said.

He said increased collaboration between the Government and the industry is critical to fight these crimes and preserve Singapore's standing as a secure and reliable financial hub.

Experts believe the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the situation, increasing the opportunity for scams and wrongdoings as companies and individuals shift to online platforms amid the mobility curbs and work-from-home arrangements.

"Pandemic or not, financial crimes and scams continue to evolve and we need to up our game to protect our system and to maintain our reputation as a safe and trusted financial centre," said Mr Tan.