$19m lost to cheats passing off as China officials as cases increase

Some 400 cases from Jan to Nov, compared with 302 cases with $12.7m lost for whole of last year

The year has not ended, but there has already been more money lost to cheats in more cases of scams involving the impersonation of China officials, compared with last year and the year before.

The police said yesterday that from January to November, people were cheated of at least $18.8 million in at least 400 such cases-up from 302 cases last year, where about $12.7 million was lost, and 188 cases in 2017, with about $12.8 million lost.

From August to November, at least $10.8 million was lost to scammers in 242 cases.

The police said that these crimes involved impersonations of staff from courier firms, telecommunications service providers, and officers from government organisations.

The scammers would trick victims by claiming that a mobile number registered in their name was involved in a crime; that a parcel under their name containing illegal goods was detained; that there was a pending case in court against them; or that they had committed a criminal offence and were required to assist in investigations.

The victims would then be asked for personal particulars and bank account details, including Internet banking credentials and one-time passwords, for investigation.

In some cases, the call would be transferred to another person identifying as a police officer from China.

Some victims have been shown a copy of a warrant for their arrest from the China police and threatened with jail if they did not cooperate. Soon after providing details, the victims would find their money transferred to unknown accounts.

In another version of this scam, victims were made to scan a QR code and transfer a sum of money using bitcoin vending machines.

 
 
 
 

Some were asked to withdraw money to be handed over to a "government officer" for verification.

The scammers would keep the victims on the phone so that they could not verify the call.

The police advise the public to ignore instructions when answering unsolicited calls from unknown parties or to ignore the calls completely. No government agency would request personal details or transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines, they added.

MP Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said despite efforts to increase anti-scam campaigns, scammers have become more sophisticated.

"They target seniors who might not be as well informed about such ploys. We must not relent at raising awareness to inoculate our vulnerable residents against such criminal activities," he said. "Crime prevention information must be made more accessible and customised to the language and IT literacy of our seniors."

• Those with information on such scams can call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000 or submit a form online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness

• Call 999 if urgent police assistance is required.

• To find out more about scams, call the anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688 or go to www.scamalert.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2019, with the headline '$19m lost to cheats passing off as China officials as cases increase'. Print Edition | Subscribe