Record number of scams in 2020 pushed overall crime rate in S'pore to highest in more than 10 years

The 15,756 reported cases of scams last year pushed the overall crime rate to its highest since 2009. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - The number of scams reported last year hit a record high, climbing 65.1 per cent from 2019, as scammers took more than $201 million from their victims.

The 15,756 reported cases of scams pushed the overall crime rate to its highest since 2009, according to figures released by the police on Tuesday (Feb 9). If scams were excluded, the total number of crimes in 2020 would have decreased by 15.3 per cent to 21,653, from 25,570 in 2019.

E-commerce scams, the most commonly reported type of scam last year, saw a 19.1 per cent jump to 3,354 reported cases compared with 2019. The police said on Tuesday that this was partly due to the increase in online transactions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap, assistant director of the Commercial Affairs Department's (CAD) Specialised Commercial Crime Division, said the police actively sieve out online monikers, URLs and advertisements from police reports, and send them to online marketplaces to remove these accounts "so that we disrupt their operation and stop them from carrying out all these scams".

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) launched an app, ScamShield, in November last year to filter out SMSes and phone calls sent and made by scammers. It is available for iPhone users, and an Android version is being developed.

CAD director David Chew said that while the authorities have made "significant inroads in disrupting scammers", the scam numbers continue to rise.

Particularly for e-commerce scams, the total amount cheated increased to $6.9 million last year, from $2.3 million in 2019. The largest sum cheated in a single case was $1.9 million.

Carousell continued to have the highest portion of e-commerce scams, with 1,319 cases or 39.3 per cent of all reported e-commerce scams.

Common scam transactions involved the sales of electronic gadgets, Covid-19-related items and personal accessories.

Last year, the Anti-Scam Centre received more than 11,190 reports involving losses of more than $164.6 million. It froze more than 9,015 bank accounts and recovered 35 per cent of the total amount scammed, or about $57.6 million.

The authorities said collaboration with key stakeholders, such as banks, fintech companies, telcos and the online marketplace, is key.

One online marketplace that takes additional measures to protect shoppers is Lazada, whose verification process involves using algorithms to detect potential scammers.

The platform was awarded the Community Partnership Award by the CAD on Monday for stepping up measures to detect fraudulent activity.

Its efforts saw the number of reports of scams on its platform fall from 180 in the first half of last year to 32 in the second half.

Lazada Singapore chief executive James Chang said: "It's definitely an ongoing journey. We feel sorry for all the customers impacted and are keeping our best to stay ahead of the curve."

NCPC chairman Gerald Singham said on Tuesday that even as the authorities and marketplaces seek to stop scammers, individual action remains key to preventing scams.

"The important thing to know is there is no vaccine for scams. Frankly, the main form of prevention is vigilance by potential victims; you must have your own individual responsibility," he said.

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