Scam scourge: How can we fight it?

Victims in Singapore have lost at least $1 billion to various scams between 2016 and mid-2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When you hear the four-letter word "scam", what comes to mind?

People being cheated of their money buying something they would never get.

People getting hurt as well as cheated when they realise the person they've been professing their love for and sending money to is nothing but a fraud.

Or people who deserve to get cheated because they were careless and complacent with their personal details.

I think that is what most of us are guilty of - we think it is other people who will fall for scams.

That is because we think we are smarter than others, better informed than most, or simply because we think it will never happen to us.

Unfortunately, that assumption, like scams, is also just a lie.

Every other day, The Straits Times receives e-mails from the police and various agencies warning the public of existing scams or of a new scam variant.

It has become so common, we wonder if there will ever be an end to such e-mails.

There won't, because scams are here to stay - a bit like Covid-19.

It is clear the authorities and companies are struggling to keep this problem in check.

As the ST team discovered, victims in Singapore have lost almost $1 billion to various scams between 2016 and mid-2021.

And the police said they have arrested and investigated more than 7,000 scammers and money mules in 2021 alone.

Yet, the problem continues to worsen, with the criminals using technology to stay several steps ahead of the people trying to stop them.

The OCBC phishing scams brought the scourge to the fore.

It made the authorities and banks realise that when vocal victims band together and use the power of social media, they have to act. They can't get away by saying: "We can't return your lost life savings now as the matter is currently under investigation."

So, what more can be done?

Impose heavier punishments on scammers in court?

Slap hefty fines on companies that don't do enough to protect our data and money?

ST will be devoting resources to report on scams over the coming months.

Why are we doing this?

It is because scams are no longer isolated incidents but a growing wave affecting people's lives, and we feel we can help educate the public so fewer people get cheated and less money is lost to scammers.

Our series of stories will feature police officers who have spent countless hours tirelessly tracking down money mules and scammers while trying to contact victims to help them.

SPH Brightcove Video
Officers from the Anti-Scam Division share the numerous challenges faced in their line of work. It's not just about stopping the scammers. One elderly victim who had fallen for a scam was provided support and counselling by officers.

It will also highlight the trauma victims face after realising that their bank accounts have been wiped clean after they fell for a scam.

It has been painful hearing their heart-rending stories but some victims have handled this better than others and are fighting back.

We hope their stories will inspire others to bounce back too.

Companies have not been spared and we will be speaking to some about how they do business in an environment of mistrust.

Because, have you realised that of late, when you receive a message or e-mail from a company, you often tend to go: "Sure or not? Real or bluff? Scam."

Our foreign correspondents will highlight the scam scourge in other countries. It is, after all, a global issue and scams perpetrated elsewhere may well come to our shores.

So, if you have a scam-related story to share, do contact us.

And if you have information on scammers or their syndicates, call the police's anti-scam hotline on 1800-722-6688, e-mail them at this link or visit the Scam Alert website.

Right now, it might seem like the bad guys are winning.

But if we all stay alert and keep an eye out for one another, it would be a good first step by the community in fighting back.

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