Police knock on doors to warn about scammers

Number of scams hit record 15,756 last year, with victims losing more than $201 m

Station Inspector Chua Kwee Hee (left) of the Community Policing Unit at Bishan Neighbourhood Police Centre and Special Constable Abdul Raaziq Abdul Rashid (far left) make house visits, often with anti-scam materials. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Station Inspector Chua Kwee Hee (left) of the Community Policing Unit at Bishan Neighbourhood Police Centre and Special Constable Abdul Raaziq Abdul Rashid (far left) make house visits, often with anti-scam materials. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Station Inspector (SI) Chua Kwee Hee, 51, spends much of his time patrolling the Bishan neighbourhood and knocking on doors to warn residents about scams.

The officer, who is part of the Community Policing Unit (CPU) at the Bishan Neighbourhood Police Centre, noted that although residents say they are aware of scams, many realise they have been scammed only after the fact.

Last year, the number of scams hit a record high of 15,756, pushing the crime rate to its highest level since 2009, as victims lost more than $201 million to scams.

That's why CPU officers educate the public about scams through house visits and neighbourhood patrols, often with anti-scam pamphlets and other materials.

The Straits Times shadowed two police officers, SI Chua and police full-time national serviceman (NSF), Special Constable (SC) Abdul Raaziq Abdul Rashid, 23, one afternoon last month as they visited residents of a Housing Board block in Bishan.

During the visits, they taught residents how to spot signs of online purchase scams and scam calls.

SI Chua, who has worked as a CPU officer for seven years, said he has met residents who have fallen prey to online purchase and love scams.

He remembers one woman who was concerned about a family member she believed was being duped by a "girlfriend" he met online. At the request of the "girlfriend", he sent her hundreds of dollars every month.

SI Chua said: "I advised the woman to ask him to stop sending money and see what the response is from the other party. If a person really loves you, they won't ask you for money."

Preventing people from getting into a situation like this is what keeps SC Abdul Raaziq motivated. The NSF, who has been on the job for six months, said: "Although it's a routine (job), if we can help most of the residents to avoid getting scammed, then it's an achievement."

Online scams were more common last year, said the police, as more people stayed home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and carried out more online transactions.

A resident who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, 52, a teacher, has come across dubious messages promising free Starbucks vouchers and Singapore Airlines deals.

She said she sometimes clicked on the links and filled up forms to gain rewards. But with the help of her brother, 46, an engineer with whom she lives, she is now much more cautious.

He said: "How can there really be such good deals? There's no free lunch in the world."

The police officers also warned residents about international scam calls, which often have a "+" in the caller ID, and encouraged them to download the ScamShield app.

It was developed by the National Crime Prevention Council last year to filter messages and calls from scammers.

Ms Claire Maribel, 42, a customer service supervisor, said she has received many scam calls. But anti-scam posters around the neighbourhood helped her identify scammers who impersonate government officials.

Ms Maribel, who lives with her husband, mother, two daughters and their nanny, once received a call from someone posing as an Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) official who said she had not paid her taxes. "I told the person, if you're really from Iras, I'll hang up and call you back. He immediately hung up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Police knock on doors to warn about scammers'. Subscribe