Police set up anti-scam centre, suspicious bank accounts can now be frozen in a few days

(From left) ASP Koay Lean Seong, DSP Lim Hao Jun, DAC Aileen Yap, ASP Greg Sim Yi Cheng, Ms Sharon Xie, DSP Eric Wong and ASP Lim Min Siang, who conceptualised the Anti-Scam Centre after studying similar set-ups overseas. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Suspicious bank accounts linked to scams can now be frozen in a few days, thanks to collaboration between the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and three major banks here.

By impeding fund transfers in this manner, the SPF's two-month-old Anti-Scam Centre aims to disrupt the operations of scammers and minimise the losses of victims.

Since it was set up on June 18, about 1,000 police reports relating to e-commerce scams and loan scams have been referred to the centre.

So far, 815 bank accounts linked to scams have been frozen, allowing the recovery of 35 per cent - or about $850,000 - of the $2.4 million in losses in total.

This would have not been possible previously, as the process to freeze a suspicious bank account used to take about two weeks, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap (DAC), assistant director of the Specialised Commercial Crime Division in the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), who led a team of six officers across various departments in the SPF to set up the Anti-Scam Centre.

In addition, the retrieval of bank account holders' details and bank statements for police investigations also used to take about 14 to 60 days. But DBS, OCBC and United Overseas Bank accounts can now be frozen in a few days. The screening of the account holder's details and latest bank balance can also be completed within the same timeframe, while bank statements can be retrieved within five working days.

There was a need to set up a centralised unit to tackle the crime, as the types of scams and modus operandi of scammers are constantly evolving, Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Lim Hao Jun from the Criminal Investigation Department's Operation, Investigation Policy and Training Division, told a media briefing on Monday (Aug 26).

"This explains why, in spite of the police's outreach efforts, more people are still falling prey to scams," said DSP Lim, who is part of the team of officers who helped set up the centre.

"Our previous efforts for enforcement and outreach have prevented an astronomical rise in scams, but we have to continually rethink on how to deal with this problem," he added.

As the nerve centre for scam reports, the Anti-Scam Centre will streamline the investigation and prosecution process, and enable the police to intervene as quickly as possible to disrupt scammers' operations, said DSP Lim.

This includes working closely with digital platforms such as Carousell to introduce scam prevention measures.

Last June, the online marketplace introduced CarouPay, a form of escrow account that will hold money paid by buyers until the sale is acknowledged by both buyers and sellers.

More recently, in March, the platform introduced machine learning technology to prevent users from creating multiple accounts, as this is one of the ways e-commerce scammers operate, said Carousell's vice-president of operations, Ms Tan Su Lin.

This has stopped about 75,000 new accounts from being created, she said.

The Anti-Scam Centre will also work with telecommunications companies to terminate mobile lines used by scammers, and find "effective measures" to disrupt scammers' operations.

In coming up with the Anti-Scam Centre, the team studied similar bodies set up overseas.

While police did not reveal which are the overseas centres they studied, there are similar set-ups in Canada, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Social media giant Facebook also recently launched a tool for users to report scam ads in the United Kingdom.

The police anti-scam team comprises DAC Yap; DSP Lim; DSP Eric Wong from Police Headquarters; Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Koay Lean Seong, previously from the Commercial Crimes Squad at Central Division; ASP Lim Min Siang from CAD's E-Commerce Fraud Enforcement and Coordination Team; ASP Greg Sim Yi Cheng, a Senior Investigation Officer at CAD; and Commercial Affairs Officer Sharon Xie.

A physical centre for the Anti-Scam Centre will be officially launched later this year.

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