Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2023 on “Combatting Scams and Safeguarding Singapore, Together” – Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development

Published: 27 February 2023


1.   Mr Chairman, we have a war against scams on our hands.

2.   In 2022, we saw 31,728 scam cases, a 32.6% increase from 2021. More than $660 million was lost, 4.5% higher than 2021. 

A Collective Shield to Protect Citizens

3.   Mr Sitoh Yin Pin asked for an update on the Government’s efforts to combat scams. I chair the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams, which leads a multi-agency effort to develop a systems wide collective shield to protect us from scams. We deploy a multi-layered defence strategy against scams:

(a)   First, we endeavour to block scam calls, SMSes, online listings and websites. 

(b)   Second, we secure government services and banking channels.

(c)   Third, we strengthen our enforcement capabilities; and 

(d)   Lastly, we strengthen our laws.

Block Scammers’ Approach

4.   Mr Christopher de Souza and Mr Vikram Nair asked how the Government partners industry and people sector stakeholders to combat scams. Mr Christopher de Souza asked about the use of technology in our efforts to fight scams. 

5.   The Home Team has established partnerships across government, private and people sectors, using technology to aid our efforts:

(a)   For calls, SPF works closely with local telecommunication companies to terminate mobile lines used for scams. In 2022, more than 6,500 such mobile lines were terminated. The SPF also engaged WhatsApp on more than 22,800 WhatsApp lines believed to be used in scams in 2022.

(b)   For SMSes, IMDA mandated SMS Sender ID registration from January 2023, and implemented anti-scam filters to detect potential scam SMSes. Under the Sender ID regime, all non-registered senders are flagged as “Likely-SCAM”. After a transition period, SMSes carrying unregistered Sender IDs will be blocked upfront. 

(c)   To address scams arising from international numbers, the IMDA is exploring offering the option to members of the public to not receive international calls and SMSes. More details will be released when ready.  

(d)   For online listings, SPF partners social media companies and e-marketplaces to remove suspicious accounts and advertisements. In 2022, more than 3,100 accounts and advertisements suspected of involvement in scams were removed. 

(e)   For websites, SPF uses analytic tools to identify and block scam websites, by detecting tell-tale characteristics. In 2022, about 20,000 scam websites were blocked. 

Secure Services

6.   The Home Team also works with stakeholders to secure government services and banking channels, so scammers cannot exploit system vulnerabilities. 

7.   We have onboarded all Government agencies onto the SMS Sender ID registry, making Government agencies harder to spoof. We are considering measures that allow the verification of incoming calls from Government officials. 

8.   The SPF also deepened their partnership with MAS and domestic banks to flag and freeze suspicious accounts. Over the past year, MAS worked with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) on the following measures: 

(a)   A cooling-off period for provisioning new digital tokens; 

(b)   Removing clickable links from official emails and SMSes; 

(c)   Lowering default transaction limits; and 

(d)   An emergency self-service “kill switch”, allowing customers to suspend their accounts quickly if compromised. 

9.   The MAS and the ABS are exploring a “Money Lock” solution, which enables customers to “lock up” a designated sum in their bank accounts. This reduces the amount that could potentially be lost to scams via digital transfers.

10.   Mr Derrick Goh spoke about the increased use of foreign payment gateways. As more foreign payment gateways open up, we are also working with MAS to review and enhance the suite of anti-scam measures to mitigate the risks of these being used for illicit purposes. 

Strengthening Enforcement 

11.   Mr Chairman, no defence is impenetrable. Some scams will succeed. For example, investment scams and job scams, which contributed to the bulk of monies lost to scams in Singapore are very hard to tackle. We have thus strengthened our enforcement capabilities, to minimise the number of victims and amounts lost to scammers. 

12.   The Anti-Scam Command was formed last year to consolidate expertise in combatting scams across the SPF. In 2022, 25 island-wide anti-scam enforcement operations led to over 8,000 money mules and scammers being investigated.

13.   Mr Vikram Nair asked about our collaborations with foreign law enforcement authorities to address the transnational nature of scams. The SPF works closely with their foreign counterparts to exchange information and conduct joint operations. In 2022, this led to the successful take-down of 13 syndicates. The SPF arrested more than 70 people based overseas, who were responsible for more than 280 scam cases.

Strengthening Legislative Levers

14.   Mr Christopher de Souza and Mr Derrick Goh asked about MHA’s plans to reduce the prevalence of money mules. We intend to tighten the law against those who facilitate the movement of scam proceeds.

15.   Currently, the vast majority of money mule investigations do not result in prosecution. Based on current laws, we need to prove that the money mule knew that the monies he was handling were linked to criminal activity. We will amend the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA), to prescribe specific conduct for which we can hold mules criminally liable. 

16.   MHA is also working with SNDGO on legislative amendments to the Penal Code to curb abuse of SingPass credentials as a vector to perpetrate scams. 

Responding to New Forms of Scams

17.   Given the evolving landscape of scams, new forms of scams will emerge. Mr Christopher de Souza asked about the processes in place to inform and activate stakeholders to address the latest scams. 

18.   Once we are aware of an emergent scam, the SPF works with the media and other stakeholders to publicise information on it so that the public can be put on guard. The SPF also taps on its partnerships with sectoral stakeholders to swiftly activate a multi-layered defence, which we adapt as the scam evolves. 

Activating Every Citizen to ACT Against Scams

19.   The best defence against scams is a vigilant and discerning public. To defend ourselves and our loved ones, we need to move beyond awareness, to mobilise every citizen to take action against scams. 

20.   Mr Christopher de Souza asked how the Government is keeping up our public education efforts to prevent scams. In January this year, we launched a new national anti-scam campaign with the tagline ‘I can ACT against scams’ as our rallying call.

21.   ACT is an acronym for three key actions that each of us can take to keep ourselves safe from scams.

(a)   A stands for Adding security features such as installing the ScamShield app on mobile devices.

(b)   C stands for Checking for scam signs and verifying with official sources.

(c)   T stands for Telling authorities, family and friends about scams.

22.   We will be launching the Scam Public Education Office later this year to drive our collective efforts with community partners and expand our outreach on scams, including: 

(a)   Collaborating with NCPC to create and curate anti-scam public education content at the national level; and 

(b)   Working with private sector and community agencies to tailor our anti-scam public education efforts for different population segments.  

23.   In September 2022, we expanded the ScamShield app to Android device users. ScamShield protects users by blocking calls from known scam numbers and filtering out potential scam SMSes. It also allows users to report scam calls and scam SMSes. We are working closely with GovTech to roll out ScamShield 2.0, which will include a WhatsApp chatbot for the public to report scam messages. 

24.   I encourage all citizens to download and use the ScamShield app. By playing your part in reporting scam calls, SMSes, and WhatsApp messages, you protect others by enabling the Police to detect scam messages and fraudulent WhatsApp accounts much more quickly and to put them on a blacklist. 

25.   Mr Derrick Goh spoke about potential levers to ensure co-operation and accountability with stakeholders. Last year, we launched the E-commerce Marketplace Transaction Safety Ratings(TSR), a consumer advisory that reviews and tracks the transaction safety of major e-commerce marketplaces based on specific metrics. The TSR encourages marketplaces to deter and detect scams committed on their platforms. It allows consumers to make informed decisions on where to do their online shopping safely. We will be refreshing the platform ratings in the TSR in April. 

26.   Mr Murali Pillai referred to his previous suggestion for SPF to publish the amounts seized and returned to victims. The SPF does not actively track the cumulative dollar value of assets recovered, and the amount returned to victims. The seizure of $172.8 million in assets that Mr Pillai referred to, was a statistic quoted from INTERPOL’s article, about a global INTERPOL operation that Singapore participated in. 

Efforts to Discourage Participation in Scams

27.   Beyond being aware and acting against scams, we need to educate the public on the consequences of engaging in scam activities. Mr Derrick Goh asked about our efforts and partnerships to address the increase in youths involved with scams and to encourage positive youth development. 

28.   A key initiative for youths is the biannual Delta League, run by SPF and NCPC. Youth participants engage in sports and participate in crime prevention activities, which enhance their awareness of the consequences of crime. More than 1,200 youths participated in the most recent Delta League which engaged participants in activities that educated them on scams.
29.   SPF also issues mid-year and year-end advisories to students and parents through schools to remind students to steer clear of crime, including being alert against attempts to trick them into being money mules. The SPF will continue to work with its stakeholders to promote a sense of social responsibility among our youths.

Support for Scam Victims

30.   Dr Shahira Abdullah suggested having a one-stop unit to assist scam victims and address their financial and emotional needs.

31.   The Victim Care Cadre programme under the SPF provides support to crime victims. Where needed, the Police activate volunteer Victim Care Officers (VCOs), who work with the Police Psychological Services Department to provide psychological first aid. Where necessary, the VCOs will also direct victims to available community and professional resources for longer-term psychological support and/or financial support. This includes Family Service Centres, Samaritans of Singapore, and the hospitals. 

32.   Dr Shahira Abdullah spoke about disabled scam victims, and deaf persons in particular, getting timely help. Crime victims have multiple avenues for reporting, including online. If a report is lodged in person, the Police buildings are designed to be accessible for persons with disabilities and if needed, sign language interpreters will be engaged to assist.  

Working Conditions of Security Officers

33.   I will now address a question on the working hours of security officers. Mr Raj Joshua Thomas asked if the Government would take the lead to regularise their hours, by requiring shorter shift hours for all government security contracts. 

34.   Since 2020, it has been mandatory for public agencies to adopt outcome-based contracts for procuring security services. New tenders are generally required to specify outcomes, rather than dictate a fixed headcount or shift hours. This allows security agencies to optimise security solutions that integrate manpower, technology and processes, giving them the flexibility to decide on the duration of each security officer’s shift.

35.   The Government will continue working with tripartite partners to further improve the working conditions of security officers.


36.   Mr Chairman, kindly let me say a few words in Mandarin.

37.   我们正与诈骗分子展开一场持久的战斗。这些诈骗分子恶毒又狡猾,往往瞄准我们心理上的需求和情感上的渴望,例如寻找伴侣,或是赚取额外收入来养家糊口等等。

38.   诈骗分子也经常对准人类的特征来行骗。例如,向来奉公守法的居民可能会被那些冒充政府人员的骗子盯上。诈骗分子也可能看准那些个性比较冲动的人,刻意制造一种紧迫感,要求受害人迅速作出转账的决定或者提供信息。

39.   诈骗案的受害者,不只是蒙受金钱上的损失,他们往往也得承受精神上的折磨,以及心灵和情感上的创伤。在爱情骗局或是冒充朋友来电的骗局当中,骗子通常会先花一段时间与受害人培养感情,而在获得受害者的信任后,就会向他们下毒手,用尽手段骗取受害者银行账户中的存款。这些受害者失去的不止是金钱上的损失,他们往往会自责或者感到内疚,也很有可能因为觉得自己的信任被背叛,而在感情上受到很深的伤害,甚至让他们以后很难再相信别人。

40.   诈骗分子的手段就像是不断更新的现代军事武器。诈骗分子设计的骗局日新月异,瞬息万变,并采用各种新的欺诈手段,专攻我们的需求和渴望。诈骗分子布下的陷阱无所不在,而我们每天都要面对各种各样的骗局。因此,我想在此强调,任何人都有可能会遇到诈骗分子,任何人都有可能受骗。我们绝不能掉以轻心,必须时刻保持警惕。

41.   Mr Chairman, everyone has a part to play to keep Singapore safe and secure. While the Government will step up measures to protect us against scams, we need to remain alert and ready to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Beyond exercising individual responsibility, let’s also look out for and support others in our community, to strengthen our collective resilience. Together, we will be able to fight the war against scams. 

42.   Thank you.