Anti-Scam Centre recovers $6.69m laundered in e-mail scam with UOB's help

The police was alerted by UOB and the United States’ FBI to a suspected case of money laundering. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) has recovered over US$4.91 million ($6.69 million) in an alleged business e-mail scam.

It is the largest single sum the centre has recovered since it was set up in June last year.

In a statement on Thursday (Oct 8), the police said they launched an investigation after receiving alerts on Oct 3 from United Overseas Bank (UOB) and the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A foreign bank had contacted UOB to urgently recall a sum of money that was illegally transferred into a Singapore-based UOB account belonging to a local firm.

UOB told reporters that it froze the Singapore bank account within minutes of the alert.

Preliminary police investigations showed that the monies were moved following an alleged business e-mail scam.

Working with UOB, the ASC was able to recover more than US$4.91 million. Police said they are tracing the remaining sum.

UOB said it is the largest sum the bank's branches here have recovered from a scam.

The police commended the local bank for "their invaluable assistance in the recovery of the monies", adding that the public should remain vigilant of such scams which involve comprised e-mail addresses.

"Such scams involve deceiving businesses through spoofing of company or client e-mail addresses and making them transfer large amounts of monies into the wrong hands," the police added.

At least 209 reports of business e-mail compromise scams were received here in the first six months of the year, up from 164 cases in the same period last year.

However, the police said the total amount scammed has decreased. Victims were cheated of at least $15.9 million between January and June this year, down from the $22.3 million in the same period last year.

The largest sum recovered previously was $6.4 million.

It was part of the €6.64 million ($10.7 million) a French pharmaceutical company was scammed into transferring to a Singapore bank account to pay for a large shipment of surgical masks and hand sanitisers.

UOB recovered around $5.3 million of the S$6.4 million sum, after it was alerted to the transaction on March 14.

Police on Thursday reminded companies to adopt crime prevention measures, such as educating staff to be mindful of any new or sudden changes in payment instructions and bank accounts.

They said firms should also verify payment instructions by calling the e-mail sender via phone numbers in their record instead of unknown numbers provided in the fraudulent e-mail.

To secure their company's e-mail account from being hacked, the police advises businesses to use strong passwords and change them regularly. Two-Factor Authentication should also be used whenever possible.

For scam-related advice, the public can call the anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688 or go to this website.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.