Spike in scam cases pushed up crime rate last year to highest in 9 years

E-commerce scams, loan scams and credit-for-sex scams made up more than 60 per cent of the top 10 scam types last year. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Scammers took more than $160 million from their victims last year, marking a 50 per cent surge in such cases and pushing the overall crime rate to its highest in nine years.

Figures released by the police on Wednesday (Feb 5) showed that the total number of reported crimes increased by 6.3 per cent, from 33,126 cases in 2018 to 35,209 cases last year.

Since 2011, the overall crime rate has been trending downwards from 608 cases per 100,000 people to 587 cases per 100,000 people in 2018.

However, last year, the overall crime rate spiked to 617 cases per 100,000 people.

Of the total number of reported crimes, about one in four related to scams, which saw an increase of 53.5 per cent from 6,189 cases in 2018 to 9,502 cases last year.

More money was also lost to scammers last year, with the total amount hitting $168.1 million - a 16 per cent increase from the previous year at $144.9 million. This is the highest amount lost in a year since 2016, according to police figures.

The police noted that if scam cases were excluded, the total number of reported crimes would have decreased by 4.7 per cent, from 26,937 cases in 2018 to 25,707 cases last year.

This was due to a significant fall in four out of the six crime categories that account for the overall crime rate. The four are crimes against persons; violent or serious property crimes; housebreaking and related crimes; and theft and related crimes.

In the four categories, police figures showed that motor vehicle and related thefts, robbery, as well as snatch theft cases, registered a 35-year low last year.

Motor vehicle and related thefts fell by 24.1 per cent to 665 cases, compared with 876 cases the previous year. Meanwhile, robbery decreased by 22.2 per cent to 56 cases last year, from 72 cases in 2018.

Snatch theft fell by 29.2 per cent to 34 cases from 48 cases in the previous year.

There was also an increase in crime-free days compared with the previous year. Last year, there were 179 days free from snatch theft, robbery and housebreaking - an increase of 16 days compared with 2018.

However, the number of reported scams saw a spike last year.

E-commerce scams, loan scams and credit-for-sex scams made up more than 60 per cent of the top 10 scam types last year. The number of reported cases for these three types of scams also increased by 54.2 per cent last year, compared to the previous year.

About 45 per cent of e-commerce scams took place on online marketplace Carousell, a drop compared with 70 per cent the previous year.

But more e-commerce scams took place on other digital platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Shopee and Lazada, as compared with the previous year.

Common transactions in these cases involved the sales of electronic products and tickets to events and attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore, said the police.

For credit-for-sex scams, common platforms used for money transfers were Alipay and iTunes cards, said the police.

To fight the scourge of scams, the police set up an Anti-Scam Centre last June under the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) to disrupt scammers' operations and mitigating monetary losses.

So far, 3,312 reports involving total losses of $10.6 million have been referred to the centre, allowing it to freeze 2,600 bank accounts to recover 35 per cent of the amount scammed or $3.7 million, said the police.

The centre has been working closely with the three major local banks - DBS, UOB and OCBC - since its formation to freeze bank accounts suspected to be involved in scammers' operations.

Last November, it roped in seven more banks to join the initiative. They are ANZ, CIMB, Citibank, Standard Chartered, Bank of China, HSBC and Maybank.

The centre has also worked with the Association of Banks in Singapore to shorten the time for banks to provide PayNow transaction details to the police, from weeks to a few days. This increases the chances of recovery of money scammed from victims, said the police.

Director of CAD David Chew said many scammers take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet and social media to threaten and target unsuspecting victims.

"Many of these scams originate from foreign jurisdictions and we see a lot of the victims' monies leaving Singapore. The police will continue to collaborate with our foreign counterparts to pursue the scammers and the monies," he added.

While the police will continue to educate the public on crime prevention measures, the public must also play their part, said Mr Chew.

"They should be aware of the latest scam tactics and always exercise vigilance to protect themselves, their friends and families from falling victim to scams."

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