$168m lost to top 10 scam types in first half of 2021; overall crime up by 11.2%

A total of 19,444 cases of crime were reported between January and June this year.
A total of 19,444 cases of crime were reported between January and June this year.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Scam victims lost $168 million to conmen in the top 10 scam categories in the first six months of this year, a sharp spike from $63.5 million in the same period last year.

This comes on the back of a 16 per cent rise in the number of reported scam cases and a 11.2 per cent hike in overall crime, according to mid-year statistics released by the police on Monday (Aug 30).

A total of 19,444 cases were reported between January and June this year, up from 17,492 in the same period last year.

Scam cases climbed from 7,247 to 8,403.

"Scammers are constantly evolving their tactics and have been taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation to prey on victims' heightened vulnerability and sense of uncertainty," said the police.

In particular, loan scams had the highest number of reported cases among scam types, with $10.6 million cheated, compared with $5.6 million last year.

The victims were mostly duped into providing personal information to supposed licensed moneylenders or banks.

The scammers would ask them to pay a small percentage of the loan amount as administrative fees and become uncontactable after payment is made.

E-commerce scams had the second highest number of reported cases, and the total amount lost by victims decreased from $5.4 million to $2.4 million.

The police said the common items involved were electronic and gaming-related items.

Job and investment scams have also surged significantly.

Victims of job scams lost $6.5 million, a vast leap from $60,000 last year.

Most of these cases involve victims being duped via advertisements on social media platforms - such as TikTok - or unsolicited WhatsApp messages from unknown numbers, which offered a part-time job with a daily salary of between $300 and $500.

The victims were told that they had to help e-commerce merchants improve their sales by buying items in advance, and would get refunds and commission fees later. This process of buying and refunding would be repeated several times, starting with low-cost items before moving to pricier ones.

The scammers would pay the victims initially, but later claim to have encountered issues with the refunds before becoming uncontactable.

"In some cases, victims were also instructed to complete a certain number of transactions within a given time frame in order to receive the payouts," said the police.

Investment scam victims lost $66.2 million - more than triple the $21.6 million in the same period last year.

In most cases, the scammers would claim to be financial professionals and entice victims to invest via websites or apps.

The victims would be asked to transfer money to unknown bank accounts and pay administrative expenses, security fees or taxes in order to reap profits. In many instances, they would earn a profit from the investment at the initial stage.

The scammers would become uncontactable after larger amounts of money were transferred, or when the victims realised they were unable to withdraw their money.

Common platforms used by the scammers in these cases to communicate with their victims include dating app Tinder, said the police.

Scammers tend to prey on the current public sentiment and context, said police principal psychologist Carolyn Misir. She noted that e-commerce and face mask-related scams were prevalent when the Covid-19 crisis started.

"But as time went by, (people) got displaced (from their jobs) or businesses failed - then you (start to) see more loan, investment and job scams," she said.

Since its inception in June 2019, the police's Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) has recovered $127 million - about 33.8 per cent of the total amount lost by victims.

"Before the set-up of ASC, the recovery rate was between 3 and 8 per cent, based on our own internal research," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police (DAC) Aileen Yap.

The ASC has worked with banks to freeze more than 17,000 bank accounts and reported more than 21,000 WhatsApp accounts believed to be related to scams.

DAC Yap said the ASC launched another initiative in July, which involves using automation to send SMS messages to alert potential scam victims determined through information gathering.

Meanwhile, victims of cyber extortion lost more than $410,000, as cases rose to 141 from 81.

"The most common social media platforms where these cases took place were Facebook, followed by Grindr and Instagram," said the police.

In some cases, the victims would be befriended online and then coaxed into performing compromising or indecent acts in front of a camera. The video footage or images were used to extort money or online credits.

Outrage of modesty cases went up to 786 from 567, while cases of voyeurism increased to 242 from 146.

Cases of robbery, housebreaking and snatch theft dropped, with a 40.5 per cent decrease to 75 from 126.

This is the lowest for mid-year figures in the past 10 years, said the police.