SINGAPORE - More young people are getting caught up in e-commerce scams despite the serious penalties, including a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
The majority of these ruses, which led to victims losing $8.3 million in the first six months of 2022, involved people posting products for sale and not delivering the items.
Police figures for e-commerce scams showed that almost 60 per cent of those arrested for their role in the crime between January and October were aged 29 and below.
A total of 121 individuals were arrested during that period, including 15 young people aged 19 and below, and 56 people aged between 20 and 29.
Lawyer Jeremy Pereira, a senior associate at Withers KhattarWong, said it is cheating if “sellers” post items online but do not have the intention to deliver the goods. The offence of cheating carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.
“We even had a recent case where the ‘seller’ thought that she would be able to stay under the radar by ‘selling’ extremely small-value items, hoping that the victims might not bother making a police report over a few dollars.
“Many police reports were still filed against the scammer,” he said, without providing more details.
The number of e-commerce scam cases – the third most common scam of concern in Singapore after those involving jobs and phishing – has doubled from 2021 to 2022.
A total of 2,267 e-commerce scams were reported in the first six months of 2022 compared with 1,057 cases during the same period in 2021, police figures released in August showed.
The spike was on the back of an overall increase in scam cases here in the first half of 2022, which also drove up Singapore’s crime rate.
The most common platforms used by e-commerce scammers included Carousell, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, and the most common items offered for sale included electronic goods as well as collectibles, trading cards and graphics cards.
Mr Azri Imran Tan, a partner who specialises in criminal defence work at I.R.B Law, said he had more young clients in 2022 compared with previous years, with his youngest being only 17 years old.
To date in 2022, he has handled at least 20 cases, with his clients facing charges including cheating.
Mr Tan said the young people were lured by the promise of quick and easy cash, and had assumed the crime was not serious.
In July 2019, a 24-year-old man was sentenced to two years’ jail after pleading guilty to 16 cheating charges.
He had duped more than 40 victims into parting with about $38,000 for concert tickets for South Korean bands on online marketplace Carousell.
His victims included a 14-year-old girl, who sent him more than $1,400 for BTS concert tickets, and a 15-year-old who transferred $816 to him for Blackpink tickets.
Mr Tan said: “It is a myth to think an offender can get away scot-free. Neither is it a guarantee that the court will treat an offender leniently, even if he or she is of a young age.”
He added that some of his clients have also been sued in civil proceedings to recover victims’ losses.
In April, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a written parliamentary reply that young people formed about half of all scam-related offenders arrested in Singapore.
In addition to cheating, some were investigated by the police for being money mules.
He said the number of young people aged below 30 who were arrested for scam-related offences had jumped from 237 in 2019 to 509 in 2020, before dropping slightly to 493 in 2021.
Mr Shanmugam was responding to a parliamentary question from Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas), who had asked about the number of young people caught for their involvement in scams.
Mr Yong, who started the Delta League football tournament in 2011 to engage with young people in crime prevention, said he was told by some participants that their friends got into trouble with the law for being involved in scams.
“It is therefore important that we educate and prevent our youth from making a mistake that could potentially ruin their futures,” he said.
To deter young people’s involvement in crime, the police have been working with schools and institutes of higher learning to highlight the consequences of crime.
“We can certainly do more in terms of targeted outreach, and spread anti-crime (messages) on both online and offline channels where our youth spend the majority of their leisure time at.
“That is why I’m glad that the police also launched new anti-scam games as part of a novel approach to gamify youth outreach and engagement,” added Mr Yong.
Cases of e-commerce scams in 2022
5 years’ jail, fine for man involved in ‘largest e-commerce fraud by an individual’ in S’pore
In August, serial conman Caine Poh Zhenlong, 34, was sentenced to five years’ jail and a fine of $17,000 after he cheated 396 victims on Carousell of $108,693 in total.
The prosecution described it as the largest scale of e-commerce fraud committed by an individual to date in Singapore.
Poh had posted advertisements on Carousell purporting to sell various products such as tickets to Universal Studios Singapore.
15 months’ jail for man who cheated victims in hotel room booking scam
Seow Ren Wei, 28, offered hotel rooms in Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands for sale by using multiple accounts he set up on Carousell.
He put up the advertisements despite having no hotel rooms to offer. In total, he cheated at least 20 people of $23,010. He was jailed for 15 months on Dec 19 after he pleaded guilty to seven cheating charges.
Man who deceived victims in VTL bus ticket scam gets 8 weeks’ jail
Muhammad Solehudin Abu, 27, put up a listing on Carousell and duped victims into thinking he had vaccinated travel lane (VTL) bus tickets available for sale.
This was during the Covid-19 restrictions, which saw high demand from vaccinated travellers for the VTL land route between Singapore and Malaysia.
After taking nearly $400 from three people, he became uncontactable and removed his listing.
He was sentenced to eight weeks’ jail in August.