Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2024 on "Advancing the Fight against Scams” - Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development

Published: 29 February 2024

1. Mr Chairman, we must press on in the war against scams. 

2. In this fight, fellow Singaporeans, residents, and government agencies are on the same battle front, defending ourselves against bad actors who are out to scam Singaporeans of hard-earned monies. 

3. Scams are a big problem around the world, not just in Singapore. 

(a) Australia reported a loss of more than AUD$3.1 billion in 2022, an 80% increase from 2021. 

(b) In the United States, more than USD$10 billion was lost to fraud in 2023, up by 72% from US$5.8 billion in 2021. 

Crime Statistics and What They Reveal – Social Engineering and Deception Used in Scams

4. The 2023 statistics on scams in Singapore show us where our weaknesses are and where further work needs to be done. 

(a) The number of scam cases increased by close to 50% in 2023, while amounts lost to scams remained more or less the same since 2021. 

(b) 2023 was the first time in five years that we actually saw a slight decrease in scam losses from the year before.

5. The increase in scam numbers was largely driven by scams using social engineering and deception to manipulate victims into transferring monies. These scams accounted for 92% of scam losses, or about $600 million, out of approximately $650 million lost to scams in 2023. 

6. In many of these cases, the victims initiated the transfer of monies to scammers. 

(a) We know this because the top 10 scams in terms of number of victims included job scams, e-commerce scams and fake friend call scams. Victims of these scams believed in the fake job or e-commerce offers promoted to them, or that calls made to them by scammers pretending to be their friends were real. 

(b) Such scams rely more on social engineering rather than technological sophistication. In fact, one could say these are old-fashioned fraud conducted through online means. 

7. Mr Derrick Goh and Mr Syed Harun Alhabsyi asked how we can reduce such scams. As individuals, our “optimism bias” leads us to mistakenly believe that we will not be deceived. We may also let our guard down, making us vulnerable to our inherent human desire to be loved, to make an extra buck, to seize an attractive looking offer etc.

8. That is why even younger Singaporeans, who are generally more digitally savvy, fall prey to scams. In fact, Singaporeans under 50 years old made up 73% of the total number of scam victims in 2023. 

9. Thus, even as we ramp up our digital and technical defences against scammers, we must not lose sight that public education remains key in our fight against scams. Our best defence is an aware, watchful, and discerning public.

10. To help our citizens identify and protect themselves from scams that Mr Christopher de Souza spoke about, we have launched the Add, Check, Tell (ACT) campaign:

(a) Add security features such as ScamShield and multi-factor authentication for personal accounts;

(b) Check for signs of scams; and

(c) Tell the authorities and others about your scam encounters. 

11. Mr Syed Harun Alhabsyi and Mr Keith Chua asked how we can better support vulnerable groups such as the elderly as part of scam prevention efforts. The Government works with partners to roll out targeted programmes for different segments of the population.

(a) For example, to reach out to the elderly, the Police weaves anti-scam messages into “Getai” shows. 

(b) SPF also works with Silver Generation Ambassadors to educate the elderly on scams. 

12. To respond to Mr Gan Thiam Poh, we will further boost our public education efforts by consolidating anti-scam resources into a one-stop portal on scams this year.

(a) The website will include information on what you should do if you think you have fallen prey to a scam, how you can protect yourself, as well as the latest scam trends. 

(b) It will also provide information on where victims of scams can seek support, which Assoc Prof Razwana Begum spoke about. For example, Police can activate volunteer Victim Care Officers (VCOs) to look into their needs. The VCOs can then direct the victims to community and professional resources for psychological and financial support.

13. The Government is also studying additional measures to better support unwitting members of the public, including those who refuse to believe that they are being scammed. They could be victims of love scams or investment scams where they have invested affection or significant amounts of monies, making it difficult for them to extract themselves out of the situation. 

14. Assoc Prof Razwana Begum spoke about the importance of community partnerships in tackling scams. 

(a) To build a vigilant online community, we will expand existing community initiatives to include cybercrimes. This includes the Cyber Guardians on Watch and Crime Prevention Ambassador (Cyber) programmes which will be launched later this year.

Coordinated Efforts in Our Fight Against Scams

15. As Mr Sitoh Yih Pin has pointed out, scammers are constantly evolving their modus operandi to get around our defences.

16. We have moved aggressively to put in technical defences to pre-empt this. 

(a) As a result, we saw improvements in the phishing scams situation. The number of reported phishing cases in 2023 decreased by 16% from the year before, and the amounts lost decreased by 14%. 

17. In 2023, malware-enabled scams emerged as a scam of concern. 

(a) Government agencies acted swiftly with the banks to implement a series of measures to secure CPF and bank accounts, such as Singpass Face Verification for high-risk CPF transactions and anti-malware security features on banking apps. 

(b) With this coordinated effort, we arrested the spike and by the end of last year, the number of malware-enabled scams dropped 70%  in the last quarter from the quarter before to about 280 cases.

18. But scammers evolve their methods.

(a) For instance, to bypass the blocking of overseas calls, more scammers are using Singapore SIM cards to make scam calls and send SMSes. 

(i) To address this, we will introduce offences to deter the misuse of local SIM cards for scams and other criminal activities. 

(b) We are also enhancing ScamShield to improve the accuracy of scam SMS detection, and allow users to report scams more easily.

Industry Stakeholders Play a Significant Role

19. In the fight against scams, partners are essential. The Government cannot do this alone. As Mr Derrick Goh said, the co-location of staff from banks at the Anti-Scam Command has facilitated faster tracing of scam proceeds and recovery of victims’ monies. 

20. This initiative was recently expanded to include the co-location of Carousell staff. As a result, the turnaround time for taking down online monikers involved in scams and suspicious advertisements on Carousell has now been reduced from days to hours. 

21. We will continue to engage key stakeholders to co-locate at the Anti-Scam Centre.

22. We implemented measures to block scam calls and SMSes, but scammers then pivoted to social media and messaging apps to reach out to victims.

(a) Meta products, in particular Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, were among the top online platforms exploited by scammers. They accounted for close to half of the scam cases in 2023, and about 43%, around $280 million of losses.

23. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked how the Government works with online platforms to better protect Singaporeans from scams. MHA and SPF have been engaging online platforms, specifically those which account for a large number of scams. 

(a) We have encountered varying levels of receptivity. 

(b) Some like Shopee and Carousell have been willing, and are working closely with MHA and the Police, such as by strengthening their user verification processes. In December 2022, Shopee introduced the seller verification features where sellers were required to verify their identities against Government records. Shopee observed a sharp drop of 71% in e-commerce scams between 2021 and 2023 reported on their platform.  

(c) Other platforms have been less willing to implement additional measures. 

(d) For instance, Meta has consistently pushed back against MHA’s recommendations for them to put in place safeguards to combat e-commerce scams on Facebook, such as verifying users against Government-issued ID and offering a secured payment option for Marketplace users. This is despite Facebook contributing close to 50% of e-commerce scam cases in 2023. It is the only platform, amongst those rated in MHA’s E-commerce Marketplace Transaction Safety Ratings (TSR), that has not implemented, or commenced implementing, the recommended safety features. As a result, Facebook Marketplace was ranked the lowest in the TSR for the second consecutive year.

(e) I urge Meta to step up, to do right by your users. 

24. The coming into force of the Online Criminal Harms Act (OCHA) will give Police the legal powers to issue directions to online platforms to prevent scam accounts and content from interacting with or reaching Singapore users. 

(a) OCHA will also allow us to issue Codes of Practice to put in place systems, processes, and measures to disrupt scams affecting people in Singapore. 

25. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if we will do more to attract investments and incentivise financial institutions to further develop anti-scam capabilities in Singapore.

(a) We will continue to drive the industry’s anti-scam efforts through the Association of Banks in Singapore’s Standing Committee on Fraud, to implement robust measures to safeguard customers, and reinforce public confidence in the security of digital banking.

International Cooperation Is Vital

26. The transnational nature of scams necessitates international cooperation. 

27. Under Singapore’s Presidency of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), we have made fostering global cooperation to strengthen asset recovery one of our priorities. 

(a) For example, we have facilitated the agreement across FATF member countries to strengthen global standards on the recovery of criminal proceeds. These standards will require countries to enhance their laws on the freezing, seizing and confiscation of assets, and international cooperation. 

28. To further forge international partnerships to tackle scams, Singapore will participate in the inaugural Global Fraud Summit in March this year. 

29. Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please. 

30. 2023年,整体诈骗案件数量呈上升趋势。在所有诈骗案中,受骗人数最多的三大诈骗类型是:虚假的工作机会、网上营销诈骗和假朋友来电。可见不法之徒最主要通过社交技巧,操纵受害者的心理,而不是使用非常复杂的科技手段。

31. 百分之九十二的诈骗案损失金额,是骗子利用社交工程手段和诈骗伎俩,蒙骗受害者转钱。在这些诈骗案中,很多往往是受害者自己把钱转给骗子。 

32. 这些都说明,加强公众意识,让大家保持警惕,非常重要。例如加设防诈骗应用ScamShield和防毒应用,以及留意诈骗迹象并在转账前再三确认收账人的身份。
33. 我们会探讨采取额外措施保护公众,包括那些不愿意相信自己受骗的人。
34. 我们在预防和屏蔽诈骗电话与手机短信方面,取得了很好的进展。我们正在探讨如何善用科技更好地侦测诈骗,以及让公众更容易检查确认诈骗迹象和举报诈骗。
35. 我们将继续汇集多方面的力量,打击诈骗集团并追回骗款。

Security Industry

36. I will now briefly speak about the security industry, who is our key partner in keeping Singapore safe and secure. 

37. Assoc Prof Razwana Begum asked about the skill development of security officers. 

(a) Under the refreshed Security Industry Transformation (ITM) 2025, we will continue to drive the upskilling of security officers so that they are better equipped to operate new integrated solutions and models, such as integrated facilities management. 

(b) We will do so in close consultation with industry stakeholders, to ensure that the training provided is accessible and relevant to all officers. 

38. On the TOPSIS framework, which Assoc Prof Razwana spoke about, the SPF Centre for Protective Security offers training for organisations who are interested to implement the TOPSIS framework at their premises. 

39. Both Assoc Prof Razwana and Ms Sylvia Lim asked questions related to the welfare of security officers. 

(a) MHA and tripartite partners are actively looking at these issues as one of the means to help with the recruitment and retention. We are of course also very interested in maintaining the welfare of our security officers. 

40. As members will be aware, wages of security officers have been raised, and will continue to increase at a sustainable and meaningful pace through the Progressive Wage Model (PWM). 

(a) The monthly gross wage of an entry-level full-time outsourced security officer was increased to $2,650 since 1 Jan 2024. It will be raised to $3,530 by 2028. More than 40,000 resident security officers will benefit from the PWM wage increases. 

41. On shift hours raised by Ms Lim, the new PWM wage schedule has already taken the first step to impose a maximum cap of 72 additional working hours per month. 

42. The Government, together with its tripartite partners, are monitoring the implementation of the new wage schedule, and will review further the working hours and deployment patterns of security officers. 

(a) Our recent initiatives have implications on resourcing, and we will need to monitor the industry’s response to these initiatives. 

43. Ms Lim asked if there has been any change in the demographic profile of security officers. 

(a) The demographic profile of security officers has remained stable, with the average age of security officers being about 52 years old. 

(b) With growing integration of technology and advanced systems, anecdotally, we do see growing interest from younger Singaporeans, and that is very encouraging. 

44. On Ms Lim’s question on the source countries being considered for the recruitment of Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs), the four countries cited by the member are not the sole sources being considered. 

(a) All APOs must pass a basic English proficiency test, but it is not the sole requirement. 

45. On Ms Lim’s questions on the limits of duties that can be outsourced from SPF to APOs, I would like to clarify that only Police officers, forensic specialists, and medical practitioners can conduct forensic medical examinations, otherwise known as FME. 

(a) I would like to assure the member that APOs cannot conduct FME directly. APOs may be involved only to support the conduct of the FME.

46. Thank you.