Fake friend call scam reports spike by more than 200% in Singapore; victims lose $8.8m in 2022

This scam type was the 10th most common ruse in 2021, and victims lost $4.5 million to it that year. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE – In 2020, there were no reported fake friend call scams.

But in 2021, there were 686 such cases, and this figure jumped 207 per cent to 2,106 cases in 2022.

The police revealed on Wednesday in its annual scams and cybercrime media conference that the fake friend call scam was the fifth type of scam of concern in 2022, with victims losing at least $8.8 million.

In 2021, this was the 10th most common type of scam, to which victims lost $4.5 million that year.

The police said fake friend call scams typically involve a scammer calling a victim from an unknown number and pretending to be his friend or acquaintance.

The caller would ask the victim questions like “can you guess who I am?” and “you can’t remember me?”. The victim would reply with the names of friends he believed could be the caller.

The caller would then assume the identity of one of the friends mentioned and claim to have lost his mobile phone or changed his contact number.

Capitalising on the element of friendship, the scammer would use various reasons to ask for money from the victim, who would then transfer a sum to the crooks, believing that he was helping a friend.

The police said that phone calls and WhatsApp were the most common channels used by scammers to contact potential victims.

More than 46 per cent of victims of this scam type were aged between 30 and 49.

Commercial Affairs Department director David Chew said fake friend call scams are an exploitative type of scam.

“In these cases, the scammer may... appeal to the kindness of the victims, who may feel compelled to help a friend. From victim statements, many said that because the caller sounded like their friend, they were convinced that it was a genuine request for help,” he said.

Warning that such scammers tend to contact victims directly through phone calls and not on social media, Mr Chew added: “This tells us that scammers are constantly evolving their tactics to find other ways to get hold of victims. And that is why it is so important for us to get the message out there about this (type of) scam, so people can be vigilant and prepared.”

The police said on Wednesday that scam victims in Singapore lost a total of $660.7 million in 2022, up from $632 million in 2021.

A total of 31,728 scam cases were reported in 2022, up from 23,933 cases in 2021. Almost $1.3 billion was lost to scams in the past two years.

Anti-scam measures over the years

Scams became a crime of concern in Singapore in 2016, with more than 5,300 cases reported that year. The Straits Times lists the slew of measures and initiatives rolled out by the authorities to tackle the problem over the years.

October 2017

The police set up the Transnational Commercial Crime Task Force to investigate transnational scams, working with law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, Macau and Malaysia to cripple international syndicates.

November 2018

The police set up the E-Commerce Fraud Enforcement and Coordination Team, a specialised unit focused on disrupting e-commerce scam operations. It has clamped down on and arrested more than 100 scammers in Singapore.

June 2019

The Anti-Scam Centre was formed as a nerve centre for scam-related investigations. Its focus is to mitigate losses, and it clawed back more than $21.2 million within its first year of operations.

April 2020

The Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS) was formed to coordinate scam-fighting efforts by the authorities and the private sector. The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Communications and Information, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore works with partners like The Association of Banks in Singapore, telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to fight scams. IMCS launched the Transaction Safety Ratings for e-commerce marketplaces in May 2022 to rate online platforms’ anti-scam measures.

August 2020

The police and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) launched the anti-scam public education campaign: “Spot the Signs. Stop the Crimes.” The campaign educates the public on how to identify scams.

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November 2020

The ScamShield app was launched for iPhone users to filter out scam messages and calls. The Android version was launched in September 2022.

March 2021

The Anti-Scam Division (ASD) was established to consolidate all scam-fighting resources under the police’s Commercial Affairs Department. The ASD works with foreign law enforcement agencies on scam detection, disruption and loss mitigation.

March 2022

The Anti-Scam Command (ASCom) was operationalised, bringing together all scam-fighting units within the Singapore Police Force. ASCom oversees the Scam Strike Teams at each of the seven police land divisions. Staff from six banks in Singapore are located at ASCom, making it faster to identify and freeze fraudulent transactions and accounts.

January 2023

NCPC launched a refreshed anti-scam campaign with the tagline “I can ACT against scams”. The ACT acronym outlines how members of the public can add security features, check for signs, and tell the authorities and others about scams.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority’s SMS Sender ID Registry (SSIR) rolled out “likely scam” messages for SMSes from organisations that had not signed up with the SSIR. After July 2023, all SMSes from organisations not registered with the SSIR will be blocked by default.

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