Online cheating cases down, but love scams a big worry

Love cheats on the Internet fooled victims into parting with $24 million last year, although the overall crime rate went down by 2.6 percent. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The police have made some headway in beating online scams that cheat victims of their money, but some Internet cons are proving stubbornly resistant.

While commercial crime decreased by 0.6 per cent overall, Internet love scams hit an all-time high last year with 636 cases, up from 385 in 2015.

The total amount cheated was also the highest by far at $24 million - double the $12 million victims were fooled into giving in 2015.

The largest amount from a single victim was $1.7 million.

In most Internet love scams, offenders befriended their victims on social media or online chat apps, charming their way into these strangers' lives before making off with their money.

Commercial crime, which counts Internet love scams, e-commerce cheating and other impersonation scams, are crimes that deceive victims into handing over goods or money through forgery and impersonation.

But with public education and cooperation from international agencies, anti-scam efforts bore fruit in other areas, the police said in a press conference yesterday.

E-commerce cheating decreased from 2,239 cases in 2015 to 2,105 last year. Victims lost $1.5 million compared with at least $1.9 million in 2015.

A scam which surfaced in April last year in which conmen pose as officials from China to dupe victims into remitting money has also tapered off. Between April and December, there were 487 cases, conning victims of $23 million.

At its peak, there were 115 cases reported in June alone, but this dwindled to just four in December.

Credit-for-sex scams, responsible for the spike in commercial crime figures in 2015, also decreased.

Figures for this scam - in which "pretty women" approach men on social media and ask them to buy gift cards in return for sexual services that are never given - fell 33.8 per cent from 1,177 cases in 2015 to 779 cases last year.

The amount cheated decreased from about $3 million in 2015 to some $1.7 million last year.

Last November, the Anti-Scam Helpline was launched for members of the public to contact the authorities for advice on scams. As of last December, more than 330 calls have been made.

Commercial Affairs Department director David Chew urged people to stay vigilant and avoid falling prey to such crime.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline Online cheating cases down, but love scams a big worry. Subscribe