When the national anti-scam campaign was launched in 2014, 504 cases of e-commerce cheating were recorded in the first half of that year. The number and types of scams have rocketed over time, with more than 5,300 cases reported in 2016, leading the authorities to begin tracking scams and identifying them as a crime of concern. In 2020, there were more than 7,200 scams reported in the first half of the year. A total of $346.5 million was lost to scams in the first half of 2022, which is more than half of the $633.3 million lost in the whole of 2021. Clearly, scamming pays – for scammers. It does so because many Singaporeans think that while cheating, like other crimes, is an unwelcome reality, it is one which befalls others. That imagined sense of security is the greatest danger because people imagine themselves safe from the menace of a crime that flourishes in cyberspace in particular. Unfortunately, while people try not to forget to lock their doors before going to sleep at night, they may not display the same habitual alertness to scams that occur in broad daylight.
The financial distress caused by scams – while immense in itself, certainly, when people are cheated of their life savings – is amplified by the psychological damage they cause. Scams have caused anxiety, depression, tension, stress, self-harm and even suicide. Cheating leaves victims traumatised. The breach of trust that they have suffered undermines their very belief system and leaves them unable to trust others. This is a serious issue. Singapore is built around an edifice of trust: trust in the institutions of the state and of business, trust that neighbours and even strangers can be expected to behave within a certain calculus of probity and decency. When scammers win, not only do they victimise their particular targets, but they also hold to ransom entire families and ultimately the faith that law-abiding citizens have in the ability of society to protect them from harm.