Published: 02 November 2021
Mr Gan Thiam Poh: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry will consider increasing the deterring measures for those who have taken in full or in part in the perpetration of scams or scam syndicates via telecommunication media to victimise the public.
Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:
1. Depending on the facts of the case, persons who take part in the perpetration of scams can be charged with one of the cheating-related offences under Sections 417 to 420A of the Penal Code, which carry imprisonment terms of up to between three and 10 years. MHA’s assessment is that these penalties are adequate for now.
2. The main challenge in combating scams perpetrated via telecommunication media is that most of the scammers are based overseas. We have adopted a multi-pronged approach to tackle them. This is led by the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS).
3. First, we have strengthened enforcement. We have been actively collaborating with foreign law enforcement agencies, to share information that may lead to the arrest of scammers based abroad. For example, between June and September 2021, the Singapore Police Force worked with the Royal Malaysian Police, Hong Kong Police Force and Taiwan Police, to bust 10 transnational syndicates involved in job scams, internet love scams and impersonation scams.
4. Second, we are partnering stakeholders outside of the Home Team to combat scams upstream. One such initiative is ScamShield, an iOS mobile app developed by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and GovTech, launched in November 2020. Apart from blocking SMS messages and calls from known scam numbers, ScamShield also has a function for users to report suspected scam calls and messages to the Police. As of 30 September 2021, there have been more than 210,000 user downloads, 1.8 million scam SMSes blocked, and 11,900 suspected scam phone numbers blocked. The ScamShield team is presently working on an Android version of the app, which is expected to be released by end of this year.
5. In addition, IMDA has required the telecom operators to block international calls that spoof numbers, e.g., 999, 995 and other numbers of our government agencies. IMDA has also implemented the ‘+’ prefix for all international calls since April 2020 to help consumers who are not expecting any overseas calls to be more vigilant and exercise greater care when answering such calls.
6. Third, we are strengthening public education and awareness. The best defence against scams is a discerning public. For example, we have been working with partners such as the NCPC to disseminate advisories to the public through various media and online platforms. We urge members of public to stay vigilant, and also to watch out for their families and friends, to prevent them from falling prey to scams.