UOB's anti-fraud team thwarts scam, recovers funds in 30 mins

Mr Richard Soh, head of investigations at UOB's Integrated Fraud Management Unit, with the Community Partnership Award last October. The award was given by the police to UOB after the bank recovered $6.69 million involved in a business e-mail imperso
Mr Richard Soh, head of investigations at UOB's Integrated Fraud Management Unit, with the Community Partnership Award last October. The award was given by the police to UOB after the bank recovered $6.69 million involved in a business e-mail impersonation scam last year. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

An elderly man almost lost his entire life savings in a high-tech scam last year.

But with the aid of its detection system, UOB's Integrated Fraud Management Unit was able to flag the transaction and recover all the funds within just 30 minutes.

Mr Richard Soh, head of investigations at the department, said the bank's system uses machine learning and artificial intelligence as it monitors all transactions in real time.

He said that in the man's case, he usually made transactions of at most several hundred dollars.

But then, suddenly, there was one transaction that involved about $60,000.

Mr Soh said: "The system detected that almost 95 per cent of the funds in this man's account was suddenly transferred to an overseas account, even though he had never made a single international transaction before."

He added that the team received an alert and immediately contacted the police and the client, who confirmed he had not authorised the transaction.

"We found out he had recently received a call from someone claiming to be from a telco, and he had granted them remote access to his computer because he thought there was something wrong with his Wi-Fi."

Mr Soh said the team managed to quickly stop the payment from going through.

It took about 30 minutes or less from the time they received the alert to the time they recovered the funds.

In another incident last year, UOB recovered $6.69 million involved in a business e-mail impersonation scam.

Mr Soh said a banking counterpart in the United States had informed him on a Saturday morning that the victim was told to transfer the money from the US to a UOB bank account.

He added that scammers usually operate after business hours and during weekends to catch banks off guard.

"But because of Project Frontier and the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) team operating 24/7, we were prepared and ready to go."

Working with the ASC, Mr Soh was able to confirm that the funds had been transferred from the UOB account here to another subsidiary in Malaysia.

Mr Soh informed his counterparts there and stopped the funds from being moved.

The $6.69 million sum was the highest total amount recovered from a scam last year. It was also recovered within a day.

The police later presented UOB with a Community Partnership Award for its invaluable assistance.

Mr Soh, who accepted the award last year, said he was proud of his team.

He added: "It doesn't matter if it's a weekend, a public holiday or even Chinese New Year. If someone desperately needs our help, we'll be there."

David Sun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2021, with the headline 'UOB's anti-fraud team thwarts scam, recovers funds in 30 mins'. Subscribe