Police rescue suicidal victims, work with telcos and foreign counterparts to stop scams

(From left) Wise Asia-Pacific's head of compliance for Asia-Pacific Genevieve Noakes, senior investigation officer Quek Kee Boon, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap and Assistant Superintendent of Police Teng Chin Hock. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Concerned that a scam victim in her 50s was not taking his calls, senior investigation officer (SIO) Quek Kee Boon visited her home last month and noticed the distinct smell of gas coming from her apartment.

SIO Quek, who is from the police’s Anti-Scam Division (ASD), said the woman was so weak from inhaling the gas that she was lying on the floor when she opened the door.

She said she wanted to end her life because she was distraught over losing her life savings of $100,000 to scammers.

SIO Quek was relating the incident at a police media briefing on Monday (Feb 14) to explain how the police are tackling scams.

The ASD, which comes under the Commercial Affairs Department, coordinates the police's anti-scam investigations and enforcement.

The woman was duped in a China officials impersonation scam.

SIO Quek said the woman had transferred the money while under stress as the scammers had claimed she was being investigated by the police in China over money laundering offences.

To prove her innocence, she was told she had to transfer all her savings into one of her accounts for investigation purposes. She was also instructed by the scammers to take a bank loan of $72,500.

It was a significant sum to the unemployed mother of two.

After instructing the victim to relinquish her one-time password, the scammer seized control of her bank account.

Recounting his visit to the woman's home, SIO Quek recalled knocking persistently on her door until she finally opened it.

"She was lying on the ground, using a wooden pole to open the door. When I asked her what happened, she said she had turned on the gas (stove) to try to commit suicide," he said.

The police contacted her family members about the incident and also offered her care support when she was discharged from hospital.

Since then, the police have recovered at least $70,000 and returned the money to her. Her condition has also stabilised.

SIO Quek said: "In extreme cases, scam victims can resort to ending their lives. I'm glad I could save her at that point in time."

In 2021, there were 23,931 scams reported, a 52.9 per cent increase from the 15,651 cases in 2020.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Aileen Yap said: "This is a life we saved but we are not sure how many we did not save."

Between September 2021 and November 2021, the police conducted three islandwide anti-scam operations targeting money mules linked to job scams, which last year were the most reported scam type.

The operations led to the arrests of 135 individuals.

Another 141 were investigated for selling their bank accounts or relinquishing their Singpass credentials so syndicates could open bank accounts to siphon monies stolen in scams.

Last year, the police froze more than 12,600 bank accounts, recovering more than $102 million stolen in scams.

As part of enforcement efforts, the police also worked with telecommunication companies and online marketplaces to terminate more than 3,300 mobile lines and reported more than 17,300 WhatsApp lines involved in suspected scams.

The police also used technology to fight scams, launching Project Awakenings last December to identify and warn potential victims of investment scams by sending them targeted SMS advisories.

They also worked with foreign law enforcement agencies and raise awareness of scams among the public.

Police said scams last year constituted 51.8 per cent of overall crime, up from 42 per cent in 2020.

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DAC Yap said the ease of online payment methods has made it more convenient for scammers to transfer money quickly.

She said: "Singapore has really become more vulnerable (to scams) with digital payments and enhanced communication channels such as Telegram and WhatsApp.

"It is extremely important for us to work together with various key stakeholders to halt the flow of money, whether it's from a bank account, e-wallet or cryptocurrency account.

"We cannot emphasise enough that fighting scams is a community effort."

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