Scam linked to Covid-19: Victims lose $110k to fake officials

The scammers claimed that China officials had seized parcels containing contraband medicine. PHOTO: ST FILE

Scammers stole more than $110,000 in a new Covid-19-related ruse in which callers impersonate staff from the Ministry of Health (MOH) before referring victims to purported officials from China.

The police said in a statement yesterday that since last month, they have received at least five reports of this new variant of the China officials impersonation scam.

Impersonating MOH staff, the scammers claimed that China officials had seized parcels containing contraband medicine to treat the coronavirus.

They said the medicine was registered under the victims' names.

These calls were then transferred to another person claiming to be from the Chinese police investigating the case.

The victims were tricked into giving their NRIC numbers, passport details and Internet banking credentials to the impersonators in order to clear their names.

They were told not to disclose any information to anyone else and to contact the purported Chinese police officials daily.

Scammers using the same ruse had previously impersonated staff from courier companies, telecommunication service providers and officers from government organisations.

Victims are typically told their mobile numbers are linked to a crime, that there is a court case against them, or that they have committed an offence and need to assist in investigations.

The Singapore Police Force said that no government agency would request personal details or the transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines.

They also advise the public to call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before taking any action, as they may be overwhelmed by emotion and have poor judgment.

To trick victims, scammers may use caller ID spoofing technology to mask the actual phone number and display a local one.

From tomorrow, all incoming international calls will be prefixed with a plus sign.

The police yesterday reminded the public to stay vigilant when receiving any unexpected international calls and reject those that spoof local numbers.

People were also warned against giving personal information, such as identification card numbers, bank details, credit card details and one-time passwords.

Those with information on such scams can call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000 or submit a form online.

They can also call 999 if urgent police assistance is required.

To find out more about scams, the public can call the anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688 or go to this website.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2020, with the headline Scam linked to Covid-19: Victims lose $110k to fake officials. Subscribe