Published: 10 September 2018
Mr Desmond Choo: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether phone scams by callers claiming to be government officials have a different modus operandi from other scams; (b) if so, how is the Ministry helping particularly vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, to quickly check the veracity of these phone calls; and (c) how else the Government is working with overseas enforcement agencies to strengthen detection and enforcement in respect of these scams.
1. A significant proportion of phone scams are committed by foreign syndicates. The modus operandi usually involve the following steps:
a. The perpetrator will claim to be officials from foreign countries, without providing enough information about themselves for the victims to be able to verify their identity.
b. The perpetrator will ask the victim to make payments over the phone, and to give bank details, credit card numbers, OTP codes from tokens or passport numbers.
2. These phone scams are similar to other forms of scam, in that they exploit the vulnerabilities of potential victims.
3. Individuals can adopt the following measures to avoid being a victim:
a. First, they should exercise vigilance when dealing with unsolicited phone calls, letters or emails, including those purportedly from Government officials or law enforcement agencies. They should not give their personal and banking details to strangers, and should bear in mind that most governments will not ask for payments over the phone.
b. Secondly, they can call the authorities that the callers claimed themselves to be from, to ascertain the authenticity of the phone call, letter or email. They can also call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 1800-722-6688 or visit www.scamalert.sg run by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).
4. Police have worked with stakeholders such as convenience stores, remittance agencies and banks, to raise their awareness, and to put in place prevention measures. This includes training frontline counter staff to spot scam victims, and displaying crime advisories prominently at the counters and automated teller machines. These efforts have resulted in heightened awareness and vigilance amongst their staff, which helped prevent at least 30 scams involving more than $370,000 in 2017.
5. Police also use traditional and social media to educate the public on scams, and tailor their approach depending on the target audience. For instance, for the elderly, Police worked with the NCPC to appoint Li Nanxing, a popular local artiste, as our Honorary Crime Prevention Ambassador. A series of TV & radio commercials on scam alerts featuring Li Nanxing, were produced and aired, with corresponding graphics in newspapers and posters.
6. Recognising that some elderly may not be reached through newspapers and posters, Police officers also conduct house visits regularly to spread crime prevention messages, and work with Residents’ Committees and grassroots volunteers to reach out to the elderly through community events like block parties, and during festive events.
7. To disrupt foreign syndicates at source, the Police share information with their foreign partners. In addition, the Police make efforts to disrupt money flows back to the foreign syndicates. Since January 2018, 22 persons have been arrested and charged in Court for acting as money mules. Of these, 6 have been convicted.
8. I urge Singaporeans to remain alert and vigilant against scams. Family members and friends can prevent a person from falling victim to scams in the first place, as well as prevent any losses, if they intervene early enough.