SINGAPORE – The number of scam cases here is unlikely to decrease in the next few years as this type of crime is too lucrative for scammers to give up, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Aileen Yap, assistant director of the Anti-Scam Command (ASCom).
DAC Yap said the authorities have been tackling the scourge aggressively by adopting a whole-of-government approach and urging stakeholders from the private sector and the community to fight scams with them.
Singapore’s anti-scam efforts have not gone unnoticed. DAC Yap said Interpol and law enforcement agencies, including those from France, Thailand and Malaysia, have contacted the Singapore authorities to learn more about their anti-scam tactics.
But she said scammers, too, have been keeping tabs on what law enforcement does and are constantly tweaking their operations and schemes to evade detection.
“Scams have gained pervasiveness not only in Singapore but worldwide. Since 2017, Singapore has faced an upward trend, with more monies being lost every year,” said DAC Yap. “It is quite clear that scams will remain a part of the crime landscape for some time.”
Scams became a crime of concern in 2016, when there were more than 5,300 cases reported. The numbers have increased every year since then.
In 2021, there were nearly 24,000 reported scam cases with losses of at least $633.3 million. The sum lost was almost 2½ times the $268.4 million stolen by scammers the previous year.
In the first half of 2022 alone, more than 14,000 cases were reported, with losses amounting to more than $227 million.
DAC Yap said Singapore adopts a multi-pronged approach to tackle scams, including getting the public to take active steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.
She said: “A good example of collaboration between government and private entities in the fight against scams is the co-location of staff from six major banks at ASCom. This allows for faster tracing of scam proceeds and recovery of victims’ monies.”
The banks are CIMB, DBS, HSBC, OCBC, Standard Chartered and UOB.
This arrangement is a highly uncommon one, known to exist only in Singapore and one other law enforcement agency, said DAC Yap.
Another example of the multi-pronged approach can be seen in the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS), which was launched in 2020.
IMCS coordinates efforts by government agencies and private sector partners, including the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, telecommunications companies and Internet service providers. Its efforts are centred around detection and disruption, enforcement, and public education.
The coordinated approach means banks can detect and freeze fraudulent accounts and transactions quickly, and telecoms companies can also quickly freeze suspicious accounts.
This partnership has led to the introduction of cooling periods for high-risk transactions and 24/7 call centres at all major retail banks and government services.
A kill switch for bank customers was introduced in October 2020, allowing them to freeze their own accounts quickly via bank ATMs or a phone call. The kill switch freezes all accounts, including for digital banking, e-payments, ATM access and credit cards.
Previously, only bank staff could freeze bank accounts.
SMSes and e-mails from banks no longer have clickable links, and international calls are now labelled with a “+” prefix. This helps people be wary of such calls if they are not expecting them, and also acts as an identifier of calls using spoofed numbers.
For government services like Singpass, users are sent security alerts should changes be made to their accounts.
The police have been running numerous operations, working with their foreign counterparts to dismantle international syndicates. At least 16 syndicates were dismantled in 2021 with the help of the Singapore authorities.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Lu Rui Jue, an anti-scam investigation officer, said public education and action are key in the fight against scams, and that family members are in the best position to protect their loved ones.
“Scammers usually establish a relationship with victims. So, when the authorities try to intervene to stop them from making transfers, victims find it hard to trust an officer they’ve only just met,” he said. “But when their spouse or relatives or other family members are involved, chances are the victim would be more likely to be convinced, because that relationship is already there.”
An anti-scam seminar organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore Police Force and the National Crime Prevention Council in partnership with The Straits Times will be held on Jan 18 at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.
DAC Yap said that with scammers constantly changing tactics to evade detection, the best line of defence will always be a vigilant and educated community.
“The scammers are highly sophisticated and are constantly employing a slew of social engineering tactics to brainwash victims,” she said. “We have cases where, despite numerous engagements (by the authorities) with the victims, they remain oblivious to the warnings and would rather believe the scammers.”
She said it is not enough for the public to just know about scams. They must also actively check on and warn their loved ones.
She said members of the public should also put in effort to protect themselves by acting against scams, as there will always be more new scammers. “And once we let our guard down, we can be vulnerable,” she added. “We can no longer do nothing and expect that scams will, one day, disappear.”
Seminar to discuss scams’ impact on society
Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling will be a moderator at an anti-scam seminar to discuss the impact of scams and what the community can do to protect itself.
Scaminar! ACT Against Scams will be held in a hybrid format at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre and virtually via live stream on Jan 18.
The event will feature discussions with panellists from the public, private and community sectors, and will be hosted by One FM 91.3’s The Flying Dutchman.
Ms Sun, who is also the guest of honour, will moderate one panel while the other will be moderated by The Straits Times multimedia correspondent Hairianto Diman.
The first panel discussion will be about what individuals can do to protect themselves against scams.
The second discussion will be about how the public can take steps to protect their loved ones and others in the community.
To register your interest, visit str.sg/scaminar for more details.