Parliament: Scams up by 80%, with $254.3m lost in first 11 months of 2020

The scourge is driven by criminal syndicates which are quick to exploit the growing volume of online transactions.
The scourge is driven by criminal syndicates which are quick to exploit the growing volume of online transactions.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More people fell prey to fraudsters last year, with the number of scam cases up by 80 per cent in the first 11 months of 2020.

Victims from the 14,960 cases reported were cheated of $254.3 million in this period, an amount up by 64.3 per cent from the same period in 2019.

This scourge is driven by criminal syndicates - many based overseas - which are quick to exploit the growing volume of online transactions and interactions, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 5).

It has been "particularly challenging" to deal with scams which are transnational in nature, said Mr Shanmugam, who was responding to a question from Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Ms Lim had asked how the police have tracked their performance in investigating and solving online scams, and Mr Shanmugam highlighted the "obvious difficulties" when perpetrators are outside of Singapore.

Nonetheless, the police have taken "a number of steps to try and deal with scams", such as the setting up of an Anti-Scam Centre in June 2019. It acts as a "nerve centre for investigations into scam-related crimes".

The centre has received over 14,000 reports, which involve total losses of more than $162.2 million. It has recovered about $57.7 million of the amount lost, and frozen over 11,200 bank accounts, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the police also track other data points such as the number of money mules investigated and the number of scammers arrested.

However, the process for seized monies to be returned to victims may still be delayed, such as when foreign authorities are required to furnish some information or evidence, said Mr Shanmugam.

There could also be a delay because multiple parties have laid claim to the money, or because the sum had been moved across different accounts, or was mixed up with monies not involved in the crime, he added.