Lawyers, bank staff, cops form teams for 3-month hackathon on fighting scams

Teams comprising some 110 contestants from the courts, police and other institutions will brainstorm solutions to stop scams. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Law enforcers, lawyers, bank staff and other professionals have assembled in teams to fight scams as part of a three-month-long hackathon.

More than 20 teams comprising some 110 contestants from the courts, the police and other institutions will brainstorm new solutions to stop scams.

They are challenged to tackle three main issues: raising public awareness of scams, strengthening current anti-scam strategies, and improving the legal community's ability to protect the public and businesses from fraud.

It marks the first time that the Hackathon for a Better World programme has set its sights on fraud amid a surge in scams as victims here lost more than $600 million last year, said the organisers at the challenge's kick-off on Wednesday (July 27).

Now in its third edition, the hackathon is organised by DBS Bank, the Singapore courts and - for the first time - the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).

Unlike usual hackathons that take place over a few days, the invitation-only contest will span several months to give teams time to test their ideas while managing their other commitments, said the organisers.

"This will also create a more conducive environment for participants to gain deeper insight and develop sharper, more meaningful responses to the complex challenges before them," they added.

Each team will be assigned a mentor from DBS and NCPC for their projects. The organisers will also hold talks on psychology and other sessions to train teams ahead of the deadline for submissions on Sept 2.

The winners will be announced on Oct 21.

Mr Lam Chee Kin, group head of legal, compliance and secretariat at DBS, said the hackathon aims to bring new ideas to the way scams are fought by law enforcement agencies, telcos, banks, e-commerce firms and other sectors.

He said: "We try to take on current issues, even if they are difficult, and this year is particularly challenging because criminals are constantly evolving their techniques."

A spate of SMS phishing scams in December last year affected hundreds of OCBC Bank customers, who lost a total of $13.7 million.

It led to the introduction of a kill switch which OCBC customers can activate to instantly freeze all banking activities when they suspect a scam.

Bank scams have continued to emerge. In June, some 60 victims lost more than $60,000 in total to phishing scams posing as DBS Bank.

The victims had received unsolicited SMS messages from senders with names such as "SG-DBS" or "DBS-Notice", leading them to a spoofed Internet banking login page, where they were asked for their bank card details.

Recently, a couple allegedly scammed customers in Singapore by failing to deliver their orders of luxury goods - mostly watches - worth some $32 million.

Mr Lam said public awareness remains a key focus of the hackathon.

Scammers worldwide are finding ways to prey on the psychological vulnerability of customers and to find ways to catch victims off-guard, he said.

Mr Lam said: "We are looking for a smart way to address that issue. I don't think anyone's cracked it yet. Hence, (how to raise awareness) is always on any shortlist for new ideas."

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