A syndicate involved in almost $20 million worth of Internet love scams has been crippled in a joint international operation involving officers from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Eight Internet love scam cases reported in Singapore, involving at least $450,000, were solved as a result of the joint operation.
The operation was carried out in Malaysia between Friday and Sunday, Singapore Police said yesterday. Sixteen Malaysians, two Nigerian men and one woman from China were arrested for their suspected involvement in at least 146 scam cases reported in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
The suspects are aged between 29 and 60.
Meanwhile, two Malaysian women, aged 40 and 48, are assisting with investigations in Singapore. The two women are believed to have helped in transferring criminal proceeds linked to the scams.
The total amount involved in the Internet love scams is about $19.45 million.
According to Malaysian news outlet The Star, it is believed the two Nigerians are the masterminds. The scam begins with a scammer befriending and starting a "relationship" with the victim on social media. He professes his love for the victim and declares that he wants to travel to Malaysia to marry her. But he gets "arrested" in Malaysia and either he or members of the syndicate will contact the victim to seek money for his release. The scammer disappears and becomes uncontactable after the money is paid.
The operation against the syndicate involved the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) from the Singapore Police Force, the Commercial Crime Investigation Department of the Royal Malaysia Police and the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau of the Hong Kong Police Force.
CAD director David Chew said the joint operation was unprecedented. "The fact that victims in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore fell prey to the same scammers shows that the criminal networks behind the scams are transnational... To tackle these syndicates, international cooperation among law enforcement agencies is extremely critical."
Last October, the police set up a task force to tackle scams involving foreign crime syndicates by freezing the local accounts of scam beneficiaries. This led to a decline in Internet love scams for the first time in five years. In the first half of this year, there were 280 such cases, a drop from 344 in the same period last year.