SINGAPORE - Victims were cheated of at least $6.8 million in about 1,700 reported cases of loan scams between January and November last year.
This is already more than three times the reported amount cheated from victims for the whole of 2018. Loan scam victims were cheated of a total of about $2 million in some 990 cases in that year.
In a statement on Thursday (Jan 2), the police warned the public against loan scams, which might have links to unlicensed moneylending.
Explaining the modus operandi of the perpetrators, the police said victims usually received an SMS text message or WhatsApp message offering loan services.
The sender may even claim to be a staff member representing a licensed moneylender.
Interested parties were then instructed to transfer a sum of money as a deposit before the loan could be disbursed.
However, after transferring the money, no loan was disbursed. After contacting the licensed moneylender that the scammer claimed to represent, the victims realised the message was not from the moneylender and the person whom they had been contacting did not exist.
In another variant of the scam, perpetrators would send victims PDF documents, purportedly from the Ministry of Law and Monetary Authority of Singapore.
These documents informed the victims that they were required to pay a deposit and 7 per cent goods and services tax for the loan before it could be approved.
"This was to deceive the victims into believing that they were corresponding with a licensed moneylender," the police said.
In some cases, the victims received another PDF document informing them that the loan request had been processed. When these victims declined to make the payments, the perpetrators would harass them by claiming the loans were already approved and they had to pay a processing fee to cancel the loans.
MP Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said the spike in scams is "a long-term battle" with criminal organisations because of the financial returns involved and Singapore's prevalent use of technology.
"We need to up our awareness game plan to defeat the increasingly sophisticated and exploitative scammers," said Mr Choo, who added that information on scam prevention needs to be easily accessible and understood even by residents who are less IT-savvy.
In their statement, the police advised members of the public to ignore such advertisements, not reply to these messages and to block or report the numbers as spam on WhatsApp or through third-party applications.
Members of the public should not give out their personal information such as their NRIC number, SingPass or bank account details, the police said.
The police added that a licensed moneylender is not allowed to make cold calls or send unsolicited text messages to members of the public.
A licensed moneylender is obliged under the law to verify the identity and particulars of the borrower at its approved place of business. It cannot approve or grant a loan to a borrower remotely.
It will also not ask a loan applicant to make payment before the disbursement of a loan or to secure the disbursement of the loan.
This includes GST, as well as so called "admin fees" and "processing fees", or any other fees.
"An administrative fee may be charged by the licensed moneylender after the loan has been granted, but this will usually be deducted from the loan principal that is disbursed to the borrower," the police said.
The address of each licensed moneylending office is available under a list on the Ministry of Law's Registry of Moneylenders website.
Those who wish to provide information on loan scams can call the police on 1800-255-0000, or send the information online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness
Call 999 for urgent police assistance or the X-Ah Long hotline on 1800-924-5664 to report anyone suspected of being involved in illegal loan-sharking activities.
For scam-related advice, they can call the anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688 or visit www.scamalert.sg