SINGAPORE - Victims in Singapore lost at least $633.3 million to scams last year, the police said on Wednesday (Feb 16) in releasing the crime figures for 2021.
The sum lost is almost 2.5 times the $268.4 million stolen by scammers the previous year.
Police said at least 90 per cent of scams in Singapore originate from overseas, and described the scammers as syndicated, well resourced and technologically sophisticated.
"Such cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute as our efforts will be dependent on the level of cooperation from overseas law enforcement agencies," they added.
When the monies stolen have been moved overseas, police said recovery is also difficult, adding that at the rate at which new scam variants are surfacing, "a discerning and well-informed public" is the best defence.
Job scams, which were not even among the top 10 scams in 2020, were the most common ruse last year with 4,554 cases, up from 132 the year before.
There are numerous variants in existence, from fake mobile apps to persuading victims to purchase movie tickets and then resell them to earn a commission.
Victims are lured by the convenience of easy jobs, which can purportedly be done remotely as well as the promise of high commissions.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap, assistant director of the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Scam Division, said the pandemic contributed to the increase in job scams.
"A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people are looking for part-time jobs to supplement household expenses," she told the media.
Investment scams accounted for the most amount of money stolen, with victims losing $190.9 million in total. The largest amount taken in a single case was $6.4 million.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan, who spoke in Parliament on Tuesday on the subject, said 5,020 of the 23,931 scams reported last year involved phishing.
There were only 16 phishing scam cases reported in 2017.
Commenting on the OCBC Bank phishing scam that began last December, Mr Tan said: "The use of a combination of highly orchestrated tactics, involving spoofed SMSes appearing in the same thread as genuine messages from the bank and links directing victims to a scam website, as well as the large number of customers targeted in the OCBC scam, show that now, the threat is significantly heightened."
Aside from scams, police said they were also concerned about the increase in cyber extortion cases and reports of molestation on public transport.
In cyber extortion cases, criminals typically befriend victims online and coax them into performing compromising or indecent acts in front of a camera before extorting money from them.
Police said there were 420 cases in 2021, up from 245 the previous year. Victims of cyber extortion last year lost at least $1.3 million.
As for outrage of modesty, police said there were 1,480 cases last year, up from 1,321 in 2020. Of the cases last year, 918 involved culprits known to the victim.
The police added that the number of outrage of modesty incidents on public transport remains a concern, with at least 148 such cases reported last year.
The culprits in these cases were unknown to the victims.
Police said the 52.9 per cent increase in scam cases drove up the total number of reported cases in 2021, in a year that saw a decrease in physical crimes.
For example, theft and housebreaking reached a 37-year low.
"There were 250 days which were free from three confrontational crimes, namely, snatch theft, robbery and housebreaking, an improvement of 48 days compared to 202 crime-free days in 2020," said the police.
They attributed the decline in physical crimes to crime prevention efforts, police presence and the use of technology such as police cameras.
Theft and its related crimes dropped by 8 per cent to 6,843 cases, while housebreaking and related crimes fell by 23.8 per cent to 160 cases last year.
Mr David Chew, director of the police’s Commercial Affairs Department, spoke on the scam situation on Wednesday.
He said: “Physically, Singapore is a safer place now more than ever before.
“But because of global connectivity, scammers anywhere in the world can now use a variety of technologies to target you, making it more dangerous for Singaporeans if they are not careful.”
He said the police are cognisant of this, and are going further with their initiatives to tackle the problem.
“We are bringing the fight to scammers, having them arrested overseas and brought into Singapore to face justice where we can,” said Mr Chew.
“We are working at an unprecedented pace to make sure that we keep everyone safe from scams.”
But he added that members of the public need to be vigilant as well.
“Whilst the police will endeavour to safeguard the public from crime, combating scams is a community effort, and the best defence against scams is an alert and discerning public.”