Published: 03 February 2020
Ms Rahayu Mahzam: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) out of the 672 social media impersonation scam cases reported to have occurred in the first 11 months of 2019, how many of the impersonators have been prosecuted so far; (b) what is the average time taken to solve each case; (c) what are the measures that the Anti-Scam Centre has put in place to address the rise in cases; and (d) whether the Anti-Scam Centre will be looking to coordinate anti-scam measures with social media companies.
1. The bulk of the social media impersonation scams reported in 2019 involved victims revealing their credit card details to a scammer masquerading as a friend or relative. The scammers subsequently used the details to make purchases on various online shopping platforms. In other cases, the scammers impersonated friends or relatives of the victims to ask for loans, which were paid into the scammers’ bank accounts.
2. These scams mostly originated from foreign jurisdictions. It is difficult to identify the scammers, as they operate on the internet using false identities. Hence, convictions are very difficult. Where available, the Police will share information with foreign counterparts to aid their investigations and to trace the stolen funds.
3. Of the cases of social media impersonation scams reported between January and November 2019, the Police have concluded investigations for 17, all of which originated overseas. In some of these cases, investigations surfaced local parties involved in the movement of the stolen monies, but these local parties did not have knowledge of the actual scams. There have been no prosecutions so far, due to the reasons I shared earlier.
4. The average time taken to solve a case depends on many factors, some of which are case-specific, such as the availability of evidence or witnesses, and the complexity of the case.
5. The Anti-Scam Centre, or ASC, plays two roles in the fight against scams. First, the freezing of suspicious bank accounts that are detected to be involved in scams, typically within a day of notification.Second, obtaining banking information on those accounts, usually within a few days. The quick freezing of bank accounts has increased the recovery rate of victims’ funds, from around 4% to 8% prior to the ASC’s formation, to approximately 35% today. So far, three local banks and seven foreign banks have started working with the ASC on this. The ASC would like to bring more banks on board.
6. The Police are also working with social media companies, such as Facebook, to explore initiatives to combat online harms that are being perpetrated on their platforms, such as scams.
7. But public education remains the key. A discerning public is our best defence. In response to the rise in social media impersonation scams, Police have issued media advisories to raise the public’s awareness of the scammers’ modus operandi, and provide crime prevention advice.