Published: 06 January 2020
Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the trend of impersonation scams in the last three years; (b) whether there is an increasing number of elderly victims; and (c) what more can the Ministry do to deter such scam cases and better protect the elderly from such scams.
1. Over the last three years, there has been an increase in the number of scam cases reported and amounts cheated. Three types of impersonation scam are of particular concern. They are: (i) China officials impersonation scam; (ii) social media impersonation scam, where scammers use compromised or spoofed social media accounts to pretend to be a victim’s family member or friend; and (iii) tech support scam where scammers pretend to be staff of telecommunications companies or law enforcement officers to deceive victims into installing malicious software onto their computers.
2. There were 401 cases of China officials impersonation scam reported between January and November 2019, a significant increase compared to 188 cases in the whole of 2017. The amounts cheated have also gone up, from at least S$12.8 million in 2017 to at least S$18.8 million between January and November 2019. The age distribution of the victims used to be quite evenly spread. However, in recent years, we see younger victims being targeted, with more than half of the victims in 2019 being young adults below the age of 30.
3. As for social media impersonation scams, there were 71 cases reported with at least S$168,000 cheated in 2017. That number jumped to 672 cases with at least S$7.2 million cheated between January and November 2019. The age distribution of victims has been fairly even over the past three years, with victims in their 20s to 40s accounting for around 60% of all such victims in 2019.
4. The number of tech support scam cases reported increased from 53 in 2017 to 224 in the period from January to November 2019. The amounts cheated have also gone up, from at least S$36,000 cheated in 2017 to at least S$12 million between January and November 2019. Both the elderly and the young have fallen prey to such scams.
5. Criminals are constantly evolving their methods to deceive people into parting with their money. No amount of Police resources will be enough. The key to the fight against scams is a discerning public. We should be 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 officials.
6. 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 about the latest scam types. The website has had over 1.7 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 sent to households.
7. The Police also work with the Residents’ Committees and grassroots volunteers to spread scam alerts to residents, through 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.
8. 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.