$1.4 trillion lost to scams globally; S’pore victims lost the most on average: Study

The most prevalent scams worldwide are those involving online shopping, identity theft and investments. PHOTO: ST FILE

LISBON Scammers stole an estimated US$1.02 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) globally between August 2022 and August 2023, with victims in Singapore losing the most money on average.

This was way higher than the US$55.3 billion lost for the whole of 2021 and the US$47.8 billion lost in 2020, according to a joint study by non-profit organisation Global Anti-Scam Alliance (Gasa) and data service provider ScamAdviser.

The latest figure was revealed by Gasa managing director Jorij Abraham during his opening speech on Wednesday at the Global Anti-Scam Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

The annual conference, which is in its fourth year, runs over two days.

The global sum lost to scams was estimated by surveying 49,459 individuals from 43 countries, including Singapore.

Participants were asked about the types of scams they encountered and the amount of money they lost to fraudsters, among other questions. The data was then extrapolated based on the country’s population.

Explaining the spike in losses over the last reporting year, Mr Abraham said global losses were previously calculated based on figures received from law enforcement agencies, which have their limitations.

“Only about 7 per cent of all scams are reported to law enforcement agencies and governments, so these figures show just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“We changed the methodology this time and asked consumers directly to get a fuller picture.”

Gasa brings together stakeholders such as policymakers, law enforcement agencies and cyber-security agencies to share knowledge on scams.

ScamAdviser offers a service to help people check if a website is a scam.

The study found that scam victims in Singapore lost the most money on average, at US$4,031 per victim. Switzerland was second at US$3,767 per victim, followed by Austria at US$3,484.

Mr Abraham said the three nations are affluent and attractive targets to scammers.

Figures released by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in February showed that victims in Singapore lost a total of $660.7 million in 2022, up from $632 million in 2021.

Speaking to a hybrid audience of more than 1,250 attendees from over 100 countries, Mr Abraham said the most prevalent scams worldwide are those involving online shopping, identity theft and investments.

These feature in the top 10 scam types in Singapore, with phishing scams – a method of identity theft – being the most common in 2022. There were 7,097 phishing cases that year, with victims losing $16.5 million, SPF figures showed.

The police said scammers in these cases would impersonate officials or trusted entities to trick victims into revealing their credit card details and bank account information.

In his speech, Mr Abraham said scammers are winning at the moment by adopting more sophisticated methods for their ruses.

He added that traditional methods of spotting scams may no longer work.

“Consumers are told that they have to check reviews, but there are so many fake reviews. They are also told that romance scammers don’t show themselves on video, but the scammers can now do that using deep fake technology.

“While building awareness is good, more has to be done to protect consumers on an infrastructural level, such as by blocking scam sites,” he said.

Dr Ng Li Sa, director of policy development and security at the Ministry of Home Affairs, said at the conference that international collaboration is key in fighting scams.

“The scammers who target Singapore are mostly based overseas, and our efforts to enforce (the law) and recover (funds) depend critically on international cooperation. This is not an option but a necessity,” she said.

Dr Ng urged other countries to set up the equivalent of Singapore’s Anti-Scam Command, where banks and law enforcement sit together to swiftly exchange information and freeze bank accounts used by scammers.

“With dedicated points of contact in each country, and a standardised turnaround time for the freezing of scam-tainted bank accounts and interception of funds, we can disrupt scam operations and drive down illicit gains.”

She also called for industry players, including technology firms and banks, to recalibrate the balance between security and convenience.

“If the alternative is to lose my life savings, perhaps needing a few more clicks and an identity verification check to complete a bank transfer might not be such a bad thing,” said Dr Ng.

“The equilibrium point between security and convenience is a norm that we can only move together, and every stakeholder has a part to play.”

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