Anti-Scam Centre recovers over $21m in past year

The Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre has handled more than 8,600 scam reports in the one year since its establishment.
The Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre has handled more than 8,600 scam reports in the one year since its establishment.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Remaining 60% of some $52m reported lost by victims has not been recouped

A Korean boyfriend working as a doctor in a Malaysian hospital in dire need of help. A mysterious, swoon-worthy American-Chinese man sending expensive gifts from abroad. And the promise of undying love after a whirlwind proposal from an eligible Malaysian bachelor.

They sound like cliches from soap operas, but online scammers have been relying on these carefully crafted profiles to trick gullible women into parting with cash and kind.

What these cases also have in common is that they were all cracked by the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) - which has handled more than 8,600 scam reports in the one year since its establishment.

The ASC has also frozen more than 6,100 bank accounts and recovered more than $21.2 million that scammers, based both locally and internationally, might have otherwise made off with.

The amount recovered is equivalent to around 40 per cent of some $52 million in funds that scammers pilfered in the cases the ASC has handled since it started operating on June 18 last year. The remaining 60 per cent of funds has not been recovered.

"Moving forward, the ASC will continue to strengthen our detection capabilities, as well as enhance our collaboration with more stakeholders and foreign law enforcement agencies, to disrupt scammers' operations and mitigate victims' losses," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap, who is assistant director of the specialised commercial crime division at the Commercial Affairs Department.

Some methods that the ASC has used to stop scammers in their tracks include a network of 11 banks that assist in promptly freezing accounts and retrieving bank account holders' particulars whenever unusual transactions are detected.

This network, which includes financial institutions like DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB), helped the centre nab a 39-year-old man involved in a massive e-commerce scam in mid-March. A French pharmaceutical firm was deceived into transferring around €6.64 million (S$10.76 million) to a Singapore bank account to pay for a shipment of surgical masks and sanitisers.

The ASC managed to retrieve more than $6.4 million, its biggest recovery so far. Around $5.3 million was recovered by UOB, which traced and froze the scammer's account within minutes.

Mr Richard Soh, head of investigation at UOB's integrated fraud management department, said scammers now pose a bigger threat as they have developed sophisticated methods to conduct scams and cover their tracks.

  • 8,600

    Number of scam reports that the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) has handled in the one year since its establishment.

    6,100

    Number of bank accounts the ASC has frozen.

"One syndicate might have multiple accounts and various money outflows, making them harder to detect," he said.

As for love scams, the ASC has also managed to foil some within a day of the cases coming to its attention: an example being a case last month involving three women.

Two of the women - Ms Tan, 58, and Ms Lim, 50 - were attempting to transfer $3,500 and $2,300 respectively, to help their online lovers pay off "Customs charges" for gifts supposedly sent to them.

HARDER TO DETECT

One syndicate might have multiple accounts and various money outflows, making them harder to detect.

MR RICHARD SOH, head of investigation at United Overseas Bank's integrated fraud management department. He said scammers now pose a bigger threat as they have devised sophisticated methods to conduct scams and cover their tracks.

 
 
 

Ms Tan thought that she was receiving a present from abroad from an American-born Chinese online lover, but it was really a scammer using pictures of a Korean man stolen off a public Instagram profile.

A 38-year-old woman known as Ms Koh was also duped into being a money mule for the same syndicate. Convinced she was helping her "Korean doctor boyfriend", she accepted and remitted around $5,300 deposited into her account from unknown sources.

The ASC managed to recover the $2,300 transferred by Ms Lim, and talked the other women out of giving the scammers more cash.

Former victims say it is best to cut off all contact once scammers ask for money.

Communications executive Esther Teoh, 27, was approached by a "Korean" man on Tinder, who after four months of chatting asked her to transfer $2,000 to a bank account in Britain.

She did not do so and promptly blocked the man.

"Once he asked me for money, I saw a serious red flag. I encourage everyone to look out for warning signs, and not be blinkered by false affection," Ms Teoh said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2020, with the headline 'Anti-Scam Centre recovers over $21m in past year'. Print Edition | Subscribe