$82 million lost through top 10 scams in first half of 2020, double the amount from a year ago

The top four categories of scams were e-commerce scams and social media impersonation ruses, followed by loan and banking-related phishing scams. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Despite warnings about the traps that scammers set to persuade victims to part with their money, more people here continued to be cheated, with a spike in online ruses being reported.

From January to June this year, the Singapore Police Force handled 4,226 more scam cases in its top 10 scam categories.

This brings the total number of cases in those 10 categories to 7,253, up from 3,027 such scams reported in the same period last year - a jump of almost 140 per cent. During the first six months of this year, $82 million were lost by victims through the top 10 scam categories.

The top four categories of scams were e-commerce scams and social media impersonation ruses, followed by loan and banking-related phishing scams. Other common types of scams were credit-for-sex scams, investment scams, Internet love scams and cases where criminals impersonated government officials from China.

The data on the rise in scams, released as part of the mid-year crime statistics by the police on Wednesday (Aug 26), contributed primarily to the 11.6 per cent increase in the total number of reported crimes in Singapore. Some 18,121 crimes were reported in the first half of 2020, up from 16,240 cases reported in the same period last year.

However, without the scams, overall crime dropped 20.5 per cent to 10,151 cases.

The sharp increase in online scams was due to an increase in online transactions during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the police.

"Criminals have been taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation to find new victims by exploiting the public's fear and sense of uncertainty," they said.

E-commerce scams were the most commonly reported, with a 73.8 per cent increase in such cases. Some 2,089 cases were reported in the first half of 2020, up from 1,202 in the same period last year.

Many of the e-commerce scams took place on digital platforms, such as Carousell, Shopee, Facebook and Lazada, and dubious transactions often involved electronics and gaming paraphernalia, as well as face masks and hand sanitisers, as crooks preyed on people's need for such items during Covid-19.

Crimes involving social media impersonation was also an area of concern, as the number of such scams soared to 1,175 in the first half of 2020, from 83 in the same period in 2019.

Instagram and Facebook were the most commonly used social media platforms where people were being cheated. Impersonating friends or family members, scammers would trick victims into revealing mobile numbers, credit card information or one-time passwords in order to sign up for fake contests or phoney promotions.

The largest sum of money cheated in a single social media impersonation case was $367,000, after a victim passed her personal bank account details to a scammer and transferred the sum to an unknown individual in April this year. She had responded to a link on a purported monetary grant sent to her on Facebook messenger.

Loan scams and banking-related scams also went up, with a 56 per cent increase in loan cases from 650 in the first half of 2019 to 1,014 in the first six months of this year. There was also a surge in banking-related phishing scams, with 898 recorded cases from January to June, up from 34 last year.

According to the police, scammers are also netting a larger haul. From January to June this year, the top 10 categories of scams in Singapore resulted in victims losing $82 million. This is a 97.1 per cent increase from the $41.6 million lost in the first half of last year.

Police principal psychologist Carolyn Misir said scammers have become more sophisticated in their methods, and start by filtering online profiles to identify and study potential victims.

Scammers also tap technology and use Photoshop, bots and fake reviews to make their ruses seem as real as possible to their targets.

"During the Covid-19 period, scammers had heightened levels of victim access. More people were online buying things and communicating with friends, and scammers found ways and means to exploit these vulnerabilities," she said.

Ms Misir added that scammers often guide potential victims into thinking less and "emoting" more by pushing them into states of fear or panic, or by giving their targets little to no time to process the situation logically.

"You often hear victims saying 'I didn't think before sharing the one-time password', but we have to be vigilant, as scams can happen to anyone regardless of age or education level," she said.

The police and the National Crime Prevention Council will launch a new anti-scam campaign on Thursday, called "Spot the Signs. Stop the Crimes". The campaign will run from this August to March 2021.

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