Police warn of fake bank hotlines in Google search advertisements, victims lost $495,000

The scammers would post fake advertisements on Google Search so that they would appear when people searched for banks' contact numbers. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

SINGAPORE - The police have warned of scam advertisements on Google search where fake bank hotlines appear when users search for banks' contact numbers.

Since last month, at least 15 victims have fallen for such scams, the police said in a statement on Wednesday (Jan 19).

The losses amounted to at least $495,000.

In such cases, the victims wanted to seek advice from the banks and searched for the banks' contact numbers. They would then come across the scam advertisement's fake contact numbers, which appeared as the first few search results on Google search.

The victims would call the fake number and speak to a scammer impersonating as bank staff.

"After sharing the reasons for contacting the bank, victims would be informed that there were issues with their bank account, credit/debit cards or loan amount," the police said.

The victims were then instructed to temporarily transfer their funds to bank accounts provided by the scammer, under the pretext of resolving their bank account or credit or debit card issue, or to make a payment for an outstanding loan.

In some cases, victims received an SMS message with the sender name showing that of the bank - spoofed by the scammers.

The message claimed that the bank was facilitating a reset of the victims' bank account "as part of the 'Let's Fight Scam' campaign by the Anti-Scam Centre and Singapore Police Force".

Other messages also stated that the victim needed to transfer money for early loan settlement.

The police said: "Victims would only realise that they had been scammed when they contacted the bank via the authentic hotline to verify the new bank account number or when the bank contacted them to verify the reason for the large sum of money transferred."

A Google spokesman said they are working to ensure that users’ ad experiences are safe.

“If we find advertisers who violate our policies or misrepresent themselves, we take quick action,” he said, noting the company’s advertiser identity verification function, which requires advertisers to verify their legal name with Google. Their name and location will then be displayed on the ad.

He added that Google will continue to roll out the function to all advertisers on its platforms.

The police advised members of the public to always verify information with numbers listed on official bank websites, or behind the cards issued by the banks.

In some cases, victims would receive an SMS claiming the bank was facilitating a reset of their bank account. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

Never transfer funds into bank accounts belonging to a stranger, and never disclose personal information or banking details and one-time passwords to anyone, the police added.

Any fraudulent transactions should be reported to the bank immediately.

Those with information on such scams can call the police on 1800-255-0000 or submit it at the police website.

More scam-related advice can be found via the anti-scam hotline on 1800-722-6688 or at the anti-scam website.

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