Overall crime dip but rise in online scams, molestations

Singapore's overall crime dipped slightly in the first half of this year, but more Casanova conmen, e-mail impersonators and molesters have surfaced and ensnared victims.
Singapore's overall crime dipped slightly in the first half of this year, but more Casanova conmen, e-mail impersonators and molesters have surfaced and ensnared victims.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Police: Significant proportion of online crimes committed remotely by foreign syndicates

Singapore's overall crime dipped slightly in the first half of this year, but more Casanova conmen, e-mail impersonators and molesters have surfaced and ensnared victims.

Mid-year crime statistics revealed yesterday by the police showed 349 cases of Internet love scams from January to June, costing victims some $22.1 million in total.

This is an increase from the $11.2 million lost in the same period last year, from 277 reported cases.

Such love scams have been on the rise yearly, and they "remain a great cause of concern", said the police. They hit an all-time high last year with 636 cases, up from 385 in 2015. The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first half of this year was close to $6 million.

In such scams, victims are befriended online, usually by attractive foreigners who gain their trust. Scammers ask for money for various reasons, including as proof of the victims' love. They then disappear after the money is transferred.

Police said online crimes are "particularly challenging" due to the borderless nature of the Internet. They noted a "significant proportion" of online commercial crimes are committed remotely by foreign syndicates, adding that they will continue to focus crime prevention efforts on the online community.

E-mail impersonation scams rose as well, with 160 reported cases in the first half of the year, up from 124 in the same period last year.

Such scams generally affect companies that correspond with other firms via e-mail regarding their transactions and fund transfers.

Often, victims do not realise that the e-mail account of the company they have been liaising with has been hacked or spoofed, and end up transferring money to the bank account provided by scammers.

The total amount cheated in such scams grew from $17.4 million in the first half of last year to $21.9 million in the same period this year.

The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first half of this year was close to $4 million.

Another common form of online scams, however, saw improvement. E-commerce cheating scams, where victims are told to pay in advance for attractively priced items that they do not receive, dipped to 900 cases from 1,006 cases last year. The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first six months this year was $60,700.

The rise in Internet love scams and e-mail impersonation cases is due to the widespread use of the Internet, social media and smartphones, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital.

"Due to our low crime rate, we are less likely to suspect that a... criminal activity is taking place," he said of the reasons Singaporeans may be predisposed to such scams. "We also tend to trust... the authorities, and are more easily taken in when a scammer pretends to be one."

Dr Rajesh Jacob, senior consultant psychiatrist at Promises Healthcare, added that those who fall prey to love scams tend to be lonely and may be depressed after break-ups or being widowed. Scammers are also more sophisticated in their ways.

Outrage of modesty cases also rose, by 9.5 per cent from 655 in the first half of last year to 717 in the first half of this year, with nightspot cases growing from 44 to 52.

Meanwhile, thefts from persons and from motor vehicles showed marked drops of 14 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively. Motor vehicle thefts dropped to 365 cases in the first half of the year, from 450 cases, with police crediting the dip to the use of in-vehicle cameras.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2017, with the headline 'Overall crime dip but rise in online scams, molestations'. Print Edition | Subscribe