Huge spike in loan scams last year

Victims lost at least $6.8m in first 11 months of 2019 - more than thrice the sum in all of 2018

The amount is more than three times the reported amount cheated from victims for the whole of 2018.
The amount is more than three times the reported amount cheated from victims for the whole of 2018.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Fraudsters made off with at least $6.8 million from about 1,700 reported cases of loan scams between January and November last year.

The haul is well above the $2 million reported stolen from about 990 victims in all of 2018.

The scams are often linked to unlicensed moneylending, the police said yesterday.

Victims usually receive an SMS or WhatsApp message offering loan services. The sender could even claim to be a staff member representing a licensed moneylender.

People are then instructed to transfer a sum of money as a deposit before the loan is disbursed. But once the money is transferred, no loan eventuates.

When victims contact the licensed moneylender the scammer claimed to represent, they find that the entire process has been a ruse.

A similar fraud involves perpetrators sending PDF documents, purportedly from the Ministry of Law and Monetary Authority of Singapore, to their targets, stating that they must pay a deposit and 7 per cent goods and services tax (GST) before the loan can be approved.

"This was to deceive the victims into believing that they were corresponding with a licensed moneylender," the police said.

In some cases, the targets received another PDF document informing them that the loan request had been processed.

If they declined to pay the deposit and GST, the perpetrators would harass them, claiming the loans were already approved and they had to pay a processing fee to cancel them.

MP Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said the spike in scams is "a long-term battle" with criminal organisations because of the financial returns involved and Singapore's prevalent use of technology.

 
 
 
 

"We need to up our awareness game plan to defeat the increasingly sophisticated and exploitative scammers," he said, adding that information on scam prevention needs to be easily accessible and understood even by residents who are less IT-savvy.

The police advise the public to ignore advertisements about loans, not to reply to text messages and to block or report the numbers as spam on WhatsApp or through third-party applications. People should also not give out personal information such as NRIC numbers and SingPass or bank account details.

The police said licensed moneylenders are not allowed to make cold calls or send unsolicited text messages to the public, and must verify the identity and particulars of the borrower at their approved place of business. They cannot approve or grant a loan to a borrower remotely.

Licensed moneylenders cannot ask an applicant to make payments before the loan is disbursed or to secure the disbursement of the loan. "An administrative fee may be charged by the licensed moneylender after the loan has been granted, but this will usually be deducted from the loan principal," the police said.

The addresses of licensed moneylenders are available on the Law Ministry's Registry of Moneylenders website.


 • Anyone with information on loan scams can contact the police on 1800-255-0000 or at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness

 • Call 999 for urgent police assistance or the X-Ah Long hotline on 1800-924-5664 to report anyone suspected of being involved in loan-sharking activity.

 • Scam-related advice is available at anti-scam helpline 1800-722-6688 or at www.scamalert.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2020, with the headline 'Huge spike in loan scams last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe