Some scam types see more seniors falling prey to them

RSVP Singapore volunteer Gillian Mui, showing a senior how to use Gmail as part of a cyber security and scams workshop. PHOTO: RSVP SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - When Madam Lim spoke to a man named Captain Song Ye Ting, who claimed to be from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau investigating a case of money laundering, she trusted him.

Madam Lim (not her real name), 69, who lives alone in a one-room flat in Khatib, told The Sunday Times that Captain Song knew her full name and NRIC number the first time she spoke to him over the phone, on April 6 last year.

By the end of the month, her $40,000 life savings were gone.

Last year, the top three common scams involving seniors aged 60 and above were phishing scams, social media impersonation scams and investment scams, the police said.

While the cases of social media impersonation scams involving seniors fell from 248 in 2020 to 212 in 2021, both phishing and investment scams increased.

The number of phishing scams involving seniors more than tripled from 153 in 2020 to 561 in 2021.

In 2021, there were 207 cases of investment scams involving seniors, a 77 per cent increase from 117 in 2020.

Speaking in Mandarin, Madam Lim said: "He (Captain Song) said my personal details had been stolen by a man named Wang Chao to create a bank account in China for money laundering."

She said Captain Song had sent her a photo of a China police identity card through WhatsApp and claimed he was assisting China Interpol with investigations.

Madam Lim believed him because of this.

On April 8 last year, she gave him her address. The next day, a man came to her flat and handed her documents allegedly from China Interpol.

A woman in her 20s went to Madam Lim's flat on April 23 and instructed her to hand over $40,000 in cash, claiming it was for the investigation. Madam Lim did so.

She contacted Captain Song on May 6 for investigation updates and was told he would contact her at 3pm, but he never did and became uncontactable.

Madam Lim made a police report that evening.

The police confirm a report was lodged and are investigating.

Scam victim Madam Lim showing a document and a picture of a Chinese official that were sent to her by scammers. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Mr Koh Juay Meng, chairman of RSVP Singapore, a non-profit group that encourages volunteerism among seniors, said the Covid-19 pandemic has made seniors more vulnerable to scams.

He said: "A lot of seniors are isolated and live alone so they are lonely. So, when (a scammer) speaks nicely to them or sends them a link they want to see, they will be very excited and go for it."

Since March 22, RSVP Singapore has been organising workshops about cyber security and scams at The Majestic Smart Seniors Applied Learning Centre in Chinatown, hoping to help 500 seniors.

The workshops are conducted by trainers from RSVP Singapore and its partners such as Google.

Since last August, the People's Association has also been conducting physical workshops informing seniors about the existence of fake TraceTogether mobile apps which may phish their personal data.

They are also warned against phishing e-mails such as one which asks for a Zoom user's log-in details in order to activate their accounts.

Social service agency Lions Befrienders is also partnering technology firm NTT to conduct hybrid workshops for seniors to help them identify common scams and red flags online.

By May, almost 1,000 seniors would have attended these workshops, which are conducted in four languages - English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Ms Karen Wee, Lions Befrienders' executive director, said: "Being scammed can be a traumatic experience for seniors, who may experience feelings of betrayal and bitterness. They can become less trusting of people around them, which leads to further social isolation."

Healthcare professional Chng P. L, 38, said his mother, 70, has been grieving over the loss of a significant portion of her life savings after she fell victim to a tech support scam in December.

She lost about $310,000 after she gave her one-time password to scammers who claimed her debit card had been deactivated.

Mr Chng said: "Seniors are not so savvy, they are definitely more trusting when receiving calls or visits from people who identify themselves with institutions like banks and government institutions.

"I explained to her she had been deceived. I also told her not to worry about it so she can move on with life and not fall into depression."

Mr Chng said they lodged a police report. The police confirm investigations are ongoing.

Madam Lim is taking the loss of her life savings in her stride too.

Victim Madam Lim lost $40,000 in her life savings after falling for an impersonation scam. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Before the incident, she had planned to retire. Now, she is working as an office cleaner to earn a few hundred dollars a month to support herself.

She said: "I hope the money can be returned to me, but I also know the chances are low."

Seniors who require advice on scams can call the Anti-Scam Hotline on 1800-722-6688 or visit this website

Helping seniors stay safe

1. Think before you act

Remind seniors it is acceptable to say "no", especially when under pressure. They may be asked by scammers posing as bank employees to divulge bank account details immediately to stop unauthorised transactions.

In such situations, seniors can consult their loved ones first before making decisions involving their finances.

2. Repeat the basics

Seniors, especially those who do not have smartphones, will likely forget how to follow cyber-security best practices such as enabling 2FA for their devices.

They can be taught how to log in to their Internet banking accounts, using their fingerprints, as an additional layer of safety. They should also be reminded not to give away their one-time passwords to anyone.

3. Workshops

The People's Association has workshops where seniors are taught how to create e-mail accounts and use the TraceTogether app. They also learn how to avoid phishing e-mails and fake TraceTogether apps.

4. Roadshows

Some seniors may prefer learning about scams in a physical, one-on-one setting so they can ask questions and learn from experts.

The Cyber Security Agency organised a pop-up at Our Tampines Hub between Dec 2 and 5 last year to teach seniors about phishing scams.

Sources: Cyber Security Agency, People's Association, RSVP Singapore, Sage Counselling Centre

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