$4.5m lost in 'technical support' scams in first quarter: Police

Scammers impersonating technical support staff so they can steal bank account details have come out in force now that many people are working from home.

The telephone fraudsters claim there are Internet issues, for example, and ask the victims to install applications that give a person remote access to their computers.

That in turn provides the scammers with the opportunity to access bank account and other personal details.

At least 125 people lost about $4.5 million to such frauds in the first three months of the year, the police said yesterday.

This kind of "technical support" scam surfaced last year with around 20 cases reported between August and September.

"Recently, some scammers have also taken advantage of the Covid-19 situation to deceive victims who are working from home into believing that their Wi-Fi networks had been compromised," said police.

Scammers typically impersonate staff from telcos like Singtel or StarHub and persuade victims to install software like TeamViewer or AnyDesk, claiming this would help them resolve Internet issues.

Some also claim to be from the "Cyber Crime Department of Singapore" or the "Cyber Police of Singapore" - agencies that do not exist - and direct them to download the applications to help with investigations.

Once victims install the applications, scammers ask them to log into their bank accounts. They then transfer money out of the accounts without the victim's knowledge, said police. There have also been cases where scammers trick the victims into carrying out the transfers themselves.

A victim who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, 42, was contacted by "Singtel staff" who told him hackers were after his personal details. He had to make a "dummy transaction" so Singtel could catch the hackers, he was told.

Several "managerial staff from Singtel" who took turns speaking to him on the phone directed him to download TeamViewer, said Mr Tan, who runs a personal training studio. He was also told to transfer $75,000 to another account in Malaysia. The money would be returned within an hour, they claimed.

Once he made the transfer and hung up, he realised he had been scammed. Thankfully, the bank managed to stop the transaction, he said.

"Ever since that incident, I don't pick up calls with no number on it... and even if I did, I won't do anything that concerns my personal details," Mr Tan added.

The police noted that all incoming international calls will be prefixed with a plus sign from April 15, and the public should be wary when receiving unexpected calls from overseas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2020, with the headline '$4.5m lost in 'technical support' scams in first quarter: Police'. Subscribe