Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2021 on "Securing Singapore with the Community" – Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 01 March 2021

1.    Mdm Chair, community partnership is crucial to achieving the Home Team’s mission.


2.    This coming year, MHA will tap on our partnership with the community in two areas. First, combatting scams. Second, in the design of our policies and legislation related to the private security industry.


I. Focus Area #1: Partnering Stakeholders to Combat Scams


3..    We are concerned with the scams situation. In 2020, more than 15,000 cases of scams were reported, a 65% increase from 2019.


4.    We agree with Mr Derrick Goh that the Police should be sufficiently resourced to combat scams. The Police has since re-organised existing resources and set up the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) in 2019.


5.    Through the Transnational Commercial Crime Task Force (TCTF), the Police has also partnered foreign law enforcement agencies in Malaysia, Macau and Hong Kong to tackle cross-border scam syndicates targeting victims in Singapore. The Police will continue to conduct joint operations with like-minded jurisdictions. MHA will continue to monitor and review the resource allocation to ensure that the Police continue to remain effective.


6.    I chair the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS), which draws on the expertise and resources from different Ministries. In the coming year, the IMCS will deepen our partnership with the community and private sector stakeholders to combat scams. Allow me to elaborate on a few notable initiatives.


Partnership with Private Sector Stakeholders


7.    Mr Derrick Goh asked for an update on the IMCS’s plans to deepen its partnership with banks, telcos and digital platforms to combat scams.


Partnership with Banks


8.    First, banks. The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) and its members have worked with the Police and MAS to detect and weed out scammers and money mules.


9.    We also took measures to help victims recover losses through Project FRONTIER, which stands for Funds Recovery Operations and Networks Team, Inspiring Effective Resolutions. This is a collaboration between Police and more than 20 financial institutions. Once the Police is notified, most bank accounts suspected to be involved in scammers’ operations can be swiftly frozen within a day. This is a big step forward from the 14 to 60 working days that these tasks used to take. I have asked banks if we can work together to further compress the turnaround time for freezing of bank accounts used by scammers so that even less is lost to scams.


Partnership with Telcos


10.    Besides banks, we also work closely with telcos and IMDA to block spoof calls and scam websites used by overseas scammers. MCI will elaborate on efforts to tackle scam calls during its Committee of Supply debate.


Partnership with Digital Platforms


11.    Finally, we are working with digital platforms to do more to combat e-commerce scams, which remains the top scam type in 2020.


12.    We are working with e-commerce platforms such as Carousell, Lazada, Shopee, Qoo10, and Amazon to prevent scams. Areas being explored are improving the seller verification, and increasing the use of more secured payment modes such as escrow accounts.


13.    A few overseas jurisdictions have begun exploring the use of legislative levers to place clear obligations on the industry to secure e-commerce transactions. For example, in December 2020, the EU Commission proposed the Digital Services Act (DSA) to better regulate the digital space, including online platforms and intermediaries.


14.    The Government is considering all options to address the scourge of e-commerce scams.


Partnership with the Community


15.    While efforts to disrupt scammers operations and money transfers are key to combating scams, the best defence against scams is a discerning and vigilant public.


16.    Everyone can potentially be a victim, not just the elderly. MHA’s survey found that in 2020, close to 50% of scam victims were between 20 and 39 years old. It is important for everyone to exercise vigilance. To be sceptical of incredulous promises and unverifiable requests and check with authorities whenever in doubt.


17.    I also encourage everyone to download ScamShield, to filter out scam calls and messages. To date, ScamShield is actively blocking over 2,500 scam numbers and has filtered more than 280,000 scam messages. ScamShield is an application developed by GovTech, MHA as well as NCPC. Right now it is only available in iOS version, but agencies are working towards developing an Android version.


18.    Mdm Chair, I would now like to make a few remarks in Mandarin.


19.    主席女士,我国诈骗案日益增加。因此,内政部团队将全力以赴和我们的社区伙伴紧密合作,加强防范措施,也提高国人对诈骗的意识。防范诈骗有三“不”,就是不要的不:第一, 不要轻易相信陌生人;第二,不要泄漏任何密码;和第三,不要随便转账汇款。


20.    近来,借贷诈骗案有所增加。但是根据我国条例,合法的贷款公司不允许进行任何的远程借贷。也就是说,只有骗子才会用电话或Whatsapp传简讯,假冒贷款公司要借钱给您。请大家一定要提高警惕. 如果碰到可疑的状况,公众也可上律政部网站,查看合法贷款公司的名单;以及到App store下载ScamShield手机应用程序,用Scamshield屏蔽和举报任何可疑的电话。


 For information: Mandarin remarks in English


Mdm Chairperson, the number of scams reported are on the rise. Thus, the Home Team will step up efforts to work closely with our community partners to strengthen the public'sawareness of scams and scam prevention. There are three “Don’t”s in scam prevention: first, don’t trust strangers; second, don’t reveal your passwords; third, don’t transfer funds carelessly.


Lately, loan scams have been on the rise. However, according to our laws, a licensed moneylender cannot approve or grant a loan to a borrower remotely. In other words, those who claim to be licensed moneylenders offering loans to you via the phone or through Whatsapp messages must be scammers. Everyone must remain vigilant. When faced with a situation that raises suspicion, members of public can view the list of legitimate financial institutes published on the Registry of Moneylenders’ website. Members of public can also visit the App Store to download Scamshield to screen and block calls and messages suspected to be from scammers.


II. Focus Area #2: Engaging Community on Policies and Legislation related to the Private Security Industry


Review of Security Agencies Grading Exercise and Private Security Industry Act Amendment


21.    Now I will talk about engaging the community on policies and legislation related to the private security industry. Mr Raj Joshua Thomas asked how the new Security Agencies Competency Evaluation (SACE) framework will encourage transformation and adoption of technology by the private security industry.


22.    A key assessment area under SACE will be on how much security agencies harness technology, to augment critical areas such as training, operations,command, control & communications (C3). This will set new benchmarks for the industry. These competencies will be reviewed periodically to keep up with technological developments, and complement efforts under the Security Industry Transformation Map (SITM).


23.    MHA takes a very serious view on the abuse of security officers, and we will amend the Private Security Industry Act (PSIA) to include new offences to address the common types of verbal and physical abuse which security officers face when carrying out their duties. These offences will also carry harsher penalties compared to similar offences against the general public.


24.    In addition, we will continue supporting public education efforts such as the industry-led anti-abuse campaign. MHA will work with the industry to equip security officers with better public management skills and encourage the use of body worn cameras to further deter abuse.


Enhancements to Road Safety


25.    I will also address two questions on road safety. Mr Faisal Manap asked whether drivers in financial difficulty can be allowed to pay their road traffic fines in instalments. MHA has been studying this since last year as we have also received feedback from several Members of this House.


26.    Regardless, already today, for genuine cases of financial difficulty, if the individual appeals to Traffic Police (TP) and the appeal is assessed to be meritorious, TP will extend their deadline to pay the traffic fine.



27.    Mr Patrick Tay spoke about the need for greater traffic safeguards. In general, road safety has improved. Road traffic fatalities have decreased in the past decade, from 195 in 2011 to 118 in 2019, and 85 last year in 2020.


28.    That said, we agree with Mr Patrick Tay that every accident is one too many. We will continue to do more to enhance road safety. For example, to better protect elderly pedestrians, we will increase the penalties for motorists who commit offences at pedestrian crossings or offences that endanger pedestrian safety in Silver Zones. We will also put in place similar measures for School Zones to protect students. We are completing our review, and will announce details later this year.


III. Conclusion


29.    The Home Team will continue to work in close partnership with our community to build a safer and more secure Singapore. Thank you.