Published: 04 June 2020
Melvin Yong Yik Chye: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the total number of scam cases reported since the COVID-19 pandemic started; (b) what is the accumulated financial losses arising from such scams; and (c) what action is the police taking to prevent such scams especially among senior citizens.
1. From January to April 2020, a total of 5,425 scam cases were reported with at least $60.4 million cheated. Of these, 394 were COVID-19 related scams, with at least $1.4 million cheated.
2. There are three scam types of concern that are related to COVID-19. First, e-commerce scams relating to the sale of face masks and hand sanitisers. Second, scams where scammers impersonate officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH) to obtain from victims their personal data and information. Third, phishing scams involving fraudulent emails and text messages containing fake offers or fake information on COVID-19 pay-outs, to trick victims into divulging their credit or debit card details and One-Time Passwords (OTP).
3. The Police have been taking action against such scammers. Between 3 February and 8 April 2020, they mounted island-wide operations leading to the arrest of 27 persons who were involved in scams amounting to more than $484,000. In these cases, the scammers had exploited the use of e-commerce platforms and online channels such as Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, Carousell, WhatsApp and Telegram. Of the 27 subjects, 16 have been charged in Court.
4. The Police are also ramping up public education and awareness efforts. They and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) are working with the Ministry of Communications and Information to issue scam advisories via WhatsApp on the Gov.sg platform.
5. Prior to the COVID-19 situation, the Police were already working with Residents’ Committees and grassroots volunteers to spread scam alerts to residents, including senior citizens, via WhatsApp and community events like block parties, roadshows, festive events and Community Safety & Security Programmes (CSSPs). One such CSSP focusing on the elderly is the Silver Watch Group. Launched in 2013, the initiative aims to impart elderly residents with crime prevention knowledge by keeping them informed of the latest crime situation and encouraging them to share relevant advice with their peers. These activities will resume gradually with the easing of safe distancing measures.
6. The key to the fight against scams is a discerning public. We should be sceptical of promises of incredulous inducements, transact only on reliable platforms, and always check with the relevant authorities when approached by dubious entities purporting to be their officials.
7. Everyone has a part to play in the fight against scams. Members of the public are urged to stay vigilant and report possible scams promptly to the Police.