Published: 07 October 2019
Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the Ministry's plan to curb the increasing trend of scam cases; (b) how effective are the current public education efforts; and (c) how can the various stakeholders such as e-commerce companies, banks and the community play a part in preventing scam cases.
1. In the first half of 2019, for the top ten types of scam, there were 3,591 Police reports lodged, with losses totalling $83.1 million. Compared to the same period last year, this was a 40% increase in both the number of reports, and amount cheated.
2. The Police take a multi-pronged approach to tackling scams.
3. First, strengthen our capabilities to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.
4. As many scams are perpetrated by foreign syndicates, the Police set up the Transnational Commercial Crime Task Force (TCTF) in October 2017. The TCTF works closely with foreign law enforcement agencies to crack down on foreign syndicates targeting Singaporeans.
5. Since its set-up, the TCTF has worked with the Royal Malaysia Police and the Hong Kong Police in six joint operations on Internet love scams reported in the three jurisdictions, solving about 270 cases involving S$27.6 million. In April 2019, two Nigerian scammers, who operated Internet love scams targeting Singaporeans, were arrested in Malaysia and brought to Singapore to face charges. This was the first time that overseas-based suspects involved in Internet love scams have been arrested and sent to Singapore for prosecution.
6. As for e-commerce scams, the Police set up an E-Commerce Fraud Enforcement and Coordination Team (E-FECT) in November 2018. Since its formation, the E-FECT has arrested 54 e-commerce scammers and solved more than 920 e-commerce scams.
7. Second, we want to act quickly to disrupt scammers’ operations and mitigate victims’ losses. To strengthen our ability to do so, the Police’s Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) set up the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) on 18 June 2019. The ASC is focused on the following three actions:
8. First, the swift freezing of bank accounts. The ASC works closely with the three major local banks – DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and UOB, to freeze suspicious bank accounts that are detected to be involved in scams, and impede fund transfers involving such accounts. These bank accounts can be frozen within a few days of notification - typically within a day, actually - which is an improvement over the previous process where banks could take up to a month to comply.
9. Second, working with digital platforms to introduce scam prevention measures and disrupt scammers’ activities. One example is the introduction of scam prevention measures by Carousell on its platform, which include scam advisories and “Caroupay”, a form of escrow payment which holds money paid by buyers until the sale is acknowledged by both buyers and sellers.
10. Third, working with telecommunications companies to swiftly terminate mobile lines used by scammers.
11. In the first three months of the ASC’s operations, 1,632 e-commerce and loan scam reports involving S$3.8 million were referred to the ASC. The ASC managed to freeze 1,286 bank accounts and recover around S$1.25 million, about 33% of the amount lost.
12. The third approach is to work closely with various stakeholders in the fight against scams. For example, the Police actively work with print, online, radio and TV broadcast media, as well as through the Police’s own social media channels, to raise awareness of typical scams and especially new scams.
13. Business operators can also help by preventing, deterring and detecting crimes at their business premises. The Police have been working with stakeholders such as convenience stores, remittance agencies and banks, to raise their awareness and help develop scam prevention measures. These include training frontline counter staff to spot scam victims, and displaying crime advisories prominently at the counters and automated teller machines. These efforts have helped prevent at least 77 scam cases involving more than $160,000 in 2019 so far.
14. But public education remains the key. A discerning public is our best defence. No amount of Police resources will be enough to stop scams, because the Police are alerted only after the crime, and the scammers constantly evolve their methods. In fact, the primary responsibility for stopping this increasing trend of scams should lie with all of us. If we are more sceptical of incredulous inducements promised by scammers, transact only on reliable platforms, and develop a habit of checking with the actual authorities when approached by dubious entities purporting to be government officials, fewer of us would fall prey.
15. To this end, the Police partner the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) to raise public awareness. For example, there is a regular “Scamalert” segment on “CrimeWatch” dedicated to educating the public on scams. A Scamalert.sg website was launched in 2014 to inform members of the public on the latest scam types. The website has had over 1.2 million visits to date. In 2016, the Police and NCPC launched an Anti-Scam Helpline (1800-722-6688) for the public to seek scam-related advice. Direct mailers containing scam-related information are also regularly sent to households in Singapore.
16. Everyone should play a part in the fight against scams. Members of the public are urged to stay vigilant and report possible scams promptly to the Police.