E-commerce scams double, $1.3 million lost in first quarter this year

The increase is partly due to circuit breaker measures.
The increase is partly due to circuit breaker measures.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - E-commerce scams have more than doubled in the first quarter of this year, with 1,159 cases recorded, compared to the 536 cases of the same period last year.

Similarly, the amount lost to such scams has risen from $469,000 to more than $1.3 million, according to the latest figures released by the police on Thursday (April 30).

The increase is partly due to the circuit breaker measures, which have seen more people staying home and relying on the Internet to work remotely, study and connect with friends, said commander of Bedok Police Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police (AC) Julius Lim.

AC Lim wrote in a Forum letter in The Straits Times that these e-commerce scams initially involved the sale of face masks but quickly expanded to the sale of game consoles as people cooped up at home turned to alternative outlets of entertainment.

Later scams involved the sale of laptops, as people began to study and work from home, he added.

"Scammers typically tout low prices for these goods, which inevitably attract unwitting customers looking for good deals online," he said.

However, the situation is not unique to Singapore. Other countries have also reported significant increases in Covid-19 related scams, said AC Lim.

To tackle such crimes, police conducted islandwide operations between Feb 1 and April 6 and arrested 22 people responsible for e-commerce scams to the tune of $745,000.

The police's Anti-Scam Centre has also partnered with banks in order to freeze accounts and thus disrupt scam operations and mitigate monetary losses.

 
 
 

The centre also works with telecommunications companies to terminate scam-related phone numbers, as well as online marketplaces to block suspicious online advertisements and monikers.

AC Lim said the police is also working with other government agencies to combat scams, in an effort coordinated by the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams led by Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling.

One such example is the blocking of international calls that spoof local emergency 999 and 995 numbers, he said.

Since April 15, the "+" prefix has also been displayed on phone screens when the incoming calls are from abroad, to alert the public to the possibility of scam calls.

However, the best way to fight scams is for the public to be vigilant, said AC Lim.

He urged the public to check the seller's reviews when shopping online and to ask for cash on delivery where possible or to use services that release payment only upon delivery.