Over $200m recovered by Anti-Scam Centre; new command targets scammers before victims make report

The Anti-Scam Centre has frozen more than 27,300 bank accounts and recovered more than $200 million since its inception in June 2019. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - More than $200 million has been recovered by the Anti-Scam Centre, with the police now targeting scammers even before people realise they have fallen prey and make a report.

At the Police Workplan Seminar on Tuesday (April 26), it was revealed that as at last month, the Anti-Scam Centre has frozen more than 27,300 bank accounts and recovered more than $200 million since its inception in June 2019.

But while fund recovery remains a key function, anti-scam operations will now focus on upstream interventions, dismantling scam operations before victims even realise they have fallen for a scam.

Each of the seven police land divisions across Singapore now has its own Scam Strike Team comprising hand-picked officers who are experienced and specialise in fighting scams. This was revealed at Tuesday's seminar.

The teams are dedicated units that target money mules and runners here, working closely with their colleagues and overseas counterparts to tackle and solve syndicated and transnational scam cases.

The Anti-Scam Centre was set up as a specialised unit under the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) in 2019.

Last year, the Anti-Scam Division was formed, reorganising and consolidating all scam-fighting units under the CAD.

The division was expanded last month to become the Anti-Scam Command, which brings together all scam-fighting units across the entire Singapore Police Force.

The new command sees coordinated anti-scam operations boosted by technology that can detect and automatically alert potential scam victims even before they become prey to scammers.

When victims make a police report, this will be scanned for online monikers, websites and advertisements linked to scam activities.

These will then be taken down with the help of online marketplace platforms and telecommunication companies.

In his speech at the Police Workplan Seminar, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said scams remain a key concern, with cases rising 52 per cent over the past year.

"The police force is reorganising its resources to tackle new crime trends," he said.

"The Anti-Scam Command consolidates investigation of all types of scams into one unit, and oversees the newly formed Scam Strike Teams in the land divisions. That will help in better sense-making, more effective crime prevention and a faster response against scams."

Speaking to the media, the director of CAD, Mr David Chew, said the new command partners more than 60 institutions, including local and foreign banks, non-bank financial institutions, cryptocurrency houses and remittance service providers.

Mr Chew introduced representatives from four such partners during a media session on the seminar.

They were from Standard Chartered Bank, Singtel, cryptocurrency platform Coinhako and gaming firm Razer.

Mr Chew said building close working relationships with such institutions was critical for the Anti-Scam Command to swiftly freeze accounts, recover funds and reduce losses suffered by victims.

He said the command will continue to work with banks and fintech companies to develop systems that use artificial intelligence to identify and block suspicious transactions.

Currently, only DBS Bank has an employee co-located at the Anti-Scam Centre in the Police Cantonment Complex.

It was previously reported that both OCBC and UOB banks also have plans to have staff working from the centre.

Mr Yap Jee Hoe, head of client diligence and fraud risk management at StanChart, said it is committed to fighting scams and it, too, will send an employee to the centre.

"We remain strongly committed to protecting our customers, and to do so, we have to be part of this anti-scam ecosystem," he said.

"I do hear a lot of stories from scam victims, and it's quite painful. I feel for them."

He added that the partnership with the new command has proven fruitful.

Mr Yap said that just last month, the partnership enabled them to help a bank customer recover close to $300,000 that was almost lost to scammers.

"The victim was, of course, very grateful," he said.

"We hope other players will come on board to also partner the Anti-Scam Command and further raise awareness of scams so that everyone is protected."

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