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Together as One: Safeguarding Singapore from Scams
Formed in June 2019, SPF’s Anti-Scam Centre has established vital partnerships and embraced innovation to take a bite out of scams.

From business email scams and e-commerce rip-offs to dubious solicitations from “foreign officials”, recent years have seen an upsurge in online scams. According to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), scams contributed to 27% of all crimes in 2019 and made up 44% of total crimes in the first half of 2020.

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ASC is at the forefront of SPF’s efforts against scams. GRAPHIC: Home Team News

Enter the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC), a unit under SPF’s Commercial Affairs Department which has greatly enhanced how we combat scams and disrupt scam operations. Within the first year of its setup, ASC has helped to recover S$21 million, frozen at least 6,100 suspect bank accounts and established vital partnerships with a range of industry partners. These accomplishments have earned ASC the Exemplary Innovator Award at this year’s Public Sector Transformation Awards.

Meet Our Scam-busters
Leading the team at ASC is Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Teng Chin Hock. A 20-year veteran of the Force, he has previously honed his investigative skills with SPF’s General Investigation Squad and CyberCrime Response Team.

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ASP Teng Chin Hock. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

One of the priorities for ASP Teng and his team has been to collaborate with telecommunication companies, online marketplaces and financial institutions such as banks and fintech companies. “As the main point of contact for any major financial intervention, our bank partners can quickly alert us if they detect any suspicious transactions,” he explained. “These partnerships allow ASC to swiftly disrupt scam operations, reach out to potential victims and mitigate losses.”

Concerted Action
ASC currently works with a network of over 30 banks and corporate entities to fight scams, and a recent case demonstrates their collaborative spirit in action. On 3 October 2020, UOB received a request from a foreign bank to urgently recall USD5 million that had been transferred into an account that was linked to a business email compromise scam.

The case had also caught the eye of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations which, in concert with UOB, alerted ASP Teng’s team on the same day. Together with UOB, ASC swiftly intervened and managed to recover USD4.91 million (approximately S$6.67 million) from two accounts based in Singapore and Malaysia – the largest sum recovered since ASC was established. Investigations are also underway to trace and recover the remaining funds.

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Crime-fighting partner: In October 2020, with the assistance of UOB, ASC recovered S$6.67 million that had been defrauded in an alleged business email compromise scam. For its efforts, UOB received SPF’s Community Partnership Award. PHOTO: SPF

Turning to Robotic Process Automation
Industry partnerships and increased public awareness are only parts of the solution, and ASC has also set its sights on fighting scammers wherever they appear online. As most Singaporeans were working from home or attending classes remotely during the Circuit Breaker and Phase One, more scam cases were reported on online platforms.

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Keeping a vigilant eye on scam cases at ASC. PHOTO: SPF

To make their work processes more effective, ASP Teng and his team leveraged on Robotic Process Automation. Employing simple bots – software applications that perform structured, repeatable processes – within ASC’s workflow, the officers have been able to automate the submission of production orders to banks, track their investigation progress more efficiently and generate dashboards on recovery rates.

This has helped the team to remain efficient even as the number of reported cases has risen. “During the start of COVID-19, for example, there was a sudden influx of cases due to the fraudulent sale of face-masks,” explained ASP Teng. “By employing Robotic Process Automation, we’ve been able to manage this increase and maintain our focus on the more vital aspects of our work. Ultimately, it takes good judgment, investigations and experience to crack cases.”

The Human Touch
Among the officers who embody these vital qualities is ASP Greg Sim. A Senior Investigating Officer with ASC, he has helped to crack face-mask scams, money laundering cases and impersonation scams. “Our work at ASC is fast-paced,” he shared, “but it’s definitely rewarding to crack a case and help to recover someone’s life savings, often before a police report has even been lodged.”

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Senior Investigation Officer ASP Greg Sim (left). PHOTOS: Fazlee Rosli

Sharing about a recent case in which an 80-year-old woman was cheated of her life savings of S$3.6 million, ASP Greg explained why he’s driven to do his best for scam victims. “Some of the people who’ve lost their money have been cultivated by scammers for prolonged periods, and find it hard to accept that they’ve been cheated,” he said. “By appreciating the cognitive biases of scam victims, we’re better positioned to reach out to them, and to offer support.”

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Reaching out to the community: Public engagement and outreach are vital to SPF's efforts to counter scams (photos taken before Circuit Breaker). PHOTOS: SPF

As ASC continues to expand its network of partners and build its scam-busting capabilities, ASP Greg had this to share: “Rest assured that ASC will devote the necessary resources to help scam victims, prevent their life savings from falling into criminal hands and bring the scammers to justice.”

Combating Scams 
For more information on scams, members of the public can visit www.scamalert.sg or call the Anti-Scam Hotline at 1800-722-6688. Anyone with information on such scams may call the Police hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit information online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

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Check out the ScamAlert website to learn how we can detect and counter scams.
Public Sector Transformation Awards 2020
The Public Sector Transformation Awards recognise public officers and agencies for excellence in their work and organisational practices. This year’s Awards Reception was held virtually on 21 October, and 80 recipients in various categories were recognised for their contributions and service.

SPF’s Anti-Scam Centre is the recipient of the Exemplary Innovator Award at this year’s Public Sector Transformation Awards. Congratulations to them, and to our other Award recipients from the Home Team!
Star Partner Award (Singapore Police Force): SHINE Children and Youth Services
Citizen Engagement Excellence Award: Dadah Itu Haram Campaign, Central Narcotics Bureau
• Exemplary SkillsFuture @ Public Service Award: SWO1 Mohammad Iskandar Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, Singapore Civil Defence Force
Exemplary Service Excellence Award: ASP Kiran Devi, Singapore Police Force
Exemplary Service Excellence Award: CPT Jenks Tan, Singapore Civil Defence Force
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Fazlee Rosli
  2. 23 October 2020
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