The painful cost of scams: Suicide and self-harm

The consequences of falling for a scam often spill over to the victim’s loved ones. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Scams can kill, and have caused victims to take their own lives or engage in self-harm.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap, assistant director of the Anti-Scam Command, said anti-scam investigators have come across several such incidents here in the past few years.

While the police were unable to provide figures on how many scam victims had committed suicide, several cases have stood out.

Said DAC Yap: “In the course of our investigation work, we have seen heart-breaking incidents where victims sink into bouts of depression, self-harm, with some even taking their own lives.”

She recalled a case here several years ago involving a man who had lost his life savings after falling for a tech support scam.

After realising he had been scammed of all his money, the man took his nine-year-old daughter to stay at his brother’s home for the night, and said he would be back the next day.

But he did not return.

When his brother and daughter went to his home to look for him, the door was ajar, and he was found with self-inflicted injuries.

He had a weak pulse and died in hospital several days later.

DAC Yap said: “The impact of scams is more dangerous than we think – it can cause young children to lose their parents, and people to lose their sons, daughters and loved ones.”

She recalled another case where a woman had fallen for a government official impersonation scam, and had handed over all her money to the scammers before she realised she was a victim and made a police report.

Officers went to her home to get her statement.

But no one answered when they knocked on her door.

The officers rang her, and heard the faint ringing of a mobile phone from inside the unit.

They kept knocking, and when the door finally creaked open, the woman inside admitted she had sealed up the entire unit and had attempted suicide because she had lost everything.

The officers rushed in and called the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

DAC Yap said the woman survived, but it was a very close call.

“To scammers, they may think they are only cheating victims of money. But in reality, they are taking away the lives of people’s daughters, sons, fathers and mothers,” she said.

“This is why we have to take scams seriously and work with the community and our stakeholders to stop these scam syndicates.”

Mr Kwek Boon Siang, principal psychologist at the crime, investigation and forensic psychology branch of the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre, said scam victims often feel violated after falling prey.

“There is a breach of trust, and their belief system is violated, and many no longer dare to believe in others,” he said.

“Their own identity has collapsed, taken over by shame, guilt and loss.”

He added that the consequences of falling for a scam often spill over to the victim’s loved ones.

He said: “The family members and loved ones of scam victims are often greatly affected. In some cases, victims do desperate things, like turning to suicide and hurting themselves, and their loved ones have to live with the consequences.”

Mr Kwek said when people find out their loved ones turned to self-harm because of scams, they can suffer what is known as survivor guilt.

“The family members can end up blaming themselves, asking why they did not spot the signs, care enough or do more,” he said.

“Hindsight is always perfect, and the ones affected may have to live with the whys and the grief. This guilt can be very intense.”

That is why he urges people to not just know about scams, but to also look out for and warn others.

Singapore takes a multi-pronged approach to tackling scams by getting the Government, private sector and community to work together.

A key aspect, however, requires the public to take active steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Mr Kwek said: “Guardianship is important, so we can help others avoid falling for scams. There are a lot of messages out there already, but when they come from a trusted friend or family member, people tend to listen and process better.”

To encourage the public to take active steps, an anti-scam seminar organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the 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 and virtually via live streaming.

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. The guest of honour, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling, will moderate one of the panels.

To register your interest, visit str.sg/scaminar for more details.

DAC Yap said the public’s vigilance is key to fighting scams effectively, especially as scam variants constantly evolve.

She said: “Public education needs to be more widespread to inoculate our population from falling prey to scams.

“There will always be more new scam variants, and once we let our guard down, we can be vulnerable.

“Fighting scams is a community effort.”

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