Online love scam victims lost record $37m in 2017

Overall crime rate dips, but molestation and unlicensed moneylending harassment cases up

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People looking for love online were duped of a record $37 million here last year, with one victim forking out almost $6 million to fraudsters, the police revealed yesterday.

Internet love scams, as well as molestation and unlicensed moneylending harassment cases, all spiked last year, bucking the overall downward trend in the Republic's crime rate, said the Singapore Police Force in its annual crime brief.

There were 825 reported cases of Internet love scams last year, an increase of almost 30 per cent over the previous year, with amounts lost jumping 50 per cent from the $24 million reported in 2016.

Stressing that online crimes are particularly difficult to solve due to the borderless nature of the Internet, the police urged the public to be alert when making friends online, and to ignore calls from strangers demanding payment or asking for personal or banking information.

"No government agency will ask for payment or seek banking information over the telephone," said a police spokesman.

Another area of concern is the number of outrage of modesty incidents that occurred on buses and trains. It jumped about 60 per cent, with such cases registering a significant increase at nightspots as well.

Criminal Investigation Department head Tan Chye Hee said: "We have noticed the increase in outrage of modesty cases in the past, and the police have stepped up operations and education efforts to engage the public to be more aware and vigilant as they go about their daily activities."

There will be more patrols on buses and at train stations, in addition to police giving out advisories to commuters during peak hours.

Posters on how to guard against molestation and what to do if an incident occurs are already on platform screen doors at MRT stations, and public education videos are being screened at bus interchanges and train platforms.

But police are also encouraging the public to report such incidents early so that culprits can be identified and arrested.

The rise in unlicensed moneylending harassment cases last year was due to more victims receiving threats via electronic means on social media or by text messages on their mobile phones, as opposed to getting their properties damaged.

Police attributed the drop in unlicensed moneylending-related harassment cases involving damage to properties to the use of more surveillance cameras in Housing Board estates.

Overall, the crime rate fell 1 per cent last year to 32,773 cases, compared with the 2016 figure, due largely to fewer violent/serious property crimes (down 12.4 per cent to 218), as well as theft and related crimes (down 4.4 per cent to 13,495), both of which fell to an all-time low last year.

Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) director David Chew said the police will continue to engage the community "to sensitise the public to the fact that scams can be perpetrated against them anywhere, any time".

CAD has been working closely with its counterpart in Malaysia to tackle syndicates based there.

Two joint operations last year led to 38 people being arrested in Singapore and Malaysia for their involvement in at least 140 Internet love scams reported on both sides of the Causeway.

Speaking at the Cybercrime and Anti-Scam Campaign Roadshow at Suntec City yesterday, Mrs Josephine Teo, Second Minister for Home Affairs, said efforts will be stepped up to raise public awareness and vigilance.

At the event, she presented awards to 12 organisations and 34 individuals for their efforts in preventing scams from escalating.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 04, 2018, with the headline Online love scam victims lost record $37m in 2017. Subscribe