Record sum of $18.8m lost to China officials impersonation scams this year

The victims would be asked to provide personal particulars and their bank account details for investigation purposes. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The year has not ended and there has already been more money lost to cheats in more cases of scams involving the impersonation of China officials compared to last year and the year before.

The police said on Friday (Dec 13) that from January to November, people were cheated of at least $18.8 million in at least 400 cases of such scams.

This figure is up from 302 cases in 2018, when about $12.7 million was lost to scammers, and about $12.8 million in 188 cases in 2017.

From August to November alone this year, at least $10.8 million was lost to scammers in 242 cases.

The police said these crimes involved people impersonating staff from courier companies, telecommunications service providers, or officers from government organisations.

The scammers would trick victims by claiming that a mobile number registered in their name was involved in a crime; that a parcel under their name containing illegal goods was detained; that there was a pending case in court against them; or that they had committed a criminal offence and were required to assist in investigations.

The victims would then be asked to provide personal particulars and their bank account details, including Internet banking credentials and one-time password (OTP) for investigation purposes.

In some cases, the call would be transferred to another person who would identify himself as a police officer from China.

Some victims were even shown a copy of a warrant for their arrest from the China police and were threatened with imprisonment if they did not cooperate.

Soon after providing details, the victims would find that money had been transferred from their bank account to unknown accounts.

In another version of this scam, victims were made to scan a QR code and transfer a sum of money using bitcoin vending machines.

There were also cases where victims were asked to withdraw money from their bank accounts to be handed over to a "government officer" for verification purposes.

The scammers would keep the victims on the phone to ensure that they did not have time to verify the authenticity of the call.

To avoid falling prey to such scams, the police advise the public to ignore instructions when answering unsolicited calls or ignore the calls completely, especially from unknown parties.

No government agency would request for personal details or the transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines, they added.

They also advise the public to call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before taking any action, as they may be overwhelmed by emotion and have poor judgment.

Scammers may use caller ID spoofing technology to mask the actual phone number and display a local one.

In these cases, police advise the public to hang up, wait a while, then call the number back to check the validity of the request.

People were also warned against giving personal information such as identification card number, bank details, credit card details and OTP.

Those with information on such scams can call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit a form online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness

They can call 999 if urgent police assistance is required.

To find out more about scams, the public call the anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-6688 or go to www.scamalert.sg

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