Published: 05 January 2021
Ms Sylvia Lim: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how does the Police track its performance in investigating and solving crimes involving online scams; (b) in cases where bank accounts of recipients of scam monies have been frozen by the authorities in Singapore, what are the impediments to expeditiously returning victims’ monies.
1. The number of scams has been on the rise. In the first eleven months of 2020, there were around 14,960 cases of scams reported, which is an 80% increase compared to the same period last year. The total amount lost to scams has also increased. In the first eleven months of 2020, the total amount cheated was $254.3 million, which is a 64.3% increase compared to the same period last year.
2. The rise in scams can be attributed to high internet penetration amongst our people. Many more Singaporeans are interacting and transacting online. Criminal syndicates, many of whom operate outside Singapore, have been quick to exploit these trends. A significant proportion of online scams reported are transnational in nature, and are therefore particularly challenging to deal with. The investigations required will have to take place outside our jurisdiction, and cooperation from other countries will be needed.
3. Police have taken a number of steps to try and deal with scams. One example is the formation of the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) in June 2019, which acts as a nerve centre for investigations into scam-related crimes. The ASC’s focus is to mitigate victims’ losses, through theinterdiction of the proceeds of crime.
4. The Member asked about how the Police track their performance in investigating and solving online scams. As indicated earlier, to the extent that the perpetrators are outside Singapore, there will be obvious difficulties. The Police track the number of money mules investigated, number of scammers arrested, number of bank accounts frozen, and amount of monies that have been recovered. These are reported in Police’s Annual Crime Brief. As at 17 December 2020, more than 14,000 reports involving total losses of more than S$162.2 million have been referred to the ASC. The ASC has frozen more than 11,200 bank accounts and recovered about S$57.7 million. Where the monies had already been transferred out of Singapore the recovery is more difficult.
5. The Member also asked about the process of returning the monies to the victims. In cases where the bank accounts of recipients of scam monies have been frozen by the authorities in Singapore, the monies are seized as proceeds of crime. The investigation officer will typically apply for a disposal order from the Courts after ascertaining that the money indeed belongs to the victim in question. While there is no fixed timeline for this process, under Section 370 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the officer must make a report to the Court within one year after the date of seizure of the monies, or when the monies are no longer relevant for the purposes of any investigation or trial, whichever is earlier. However, should the monies still be relevant for the purposes of investigation or trial, or if there is any pending court proceeding, the Court cannot dispose of the monies and the monies cannot be returned to the victims yet.
6. The application of a disposal order entails the authorities satisfying the Courts that a crime did take place, that the seized monies are proceeds of crime traceable to that identified crime, and lastly, that the victim concerned is the rightful owner of those seized monies. This process may be delayed where:
a. Information or evidence is required from foreign authorities, such as in transnational scams;
b. The seized monies have been moved across multiple accounts;
c. There is a commingling of monies related with an offence, with monies that are not; and
d. Where there are multiple claims from various parties to the same seized property, in which case a disposal inquiry may have to be convened for the Courts to determine who should be entitled to the seized monies.