Published: 11 January 2022
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether there is sufficient protection in place to protect individuals from the multitude of internet-related scams including investment scams, job scams, e-commerce scams, loan scams and internet-banking scams; and (b) how can the public be made aware to not provide their SingPass details or other passwords to prevent scammers from remotely draining money from their accounts.
Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:
1. The vast majority of internet-related scams are perpetrated by scammers based outside Singapore. Such cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute. Much of our efforts to solve these cases will depend on the level of cooperation of overseas law enforcement agencies, as well as their ability to track down these scammers based in their jurisdictions. These scammers are typically part of organised criminal groups, and run sophisticated transnational operations which are not easy to detect or dismantle. Where monies have been transferred outside Singapore, recovery is also more difficult.
2. The Government adopts a multi-pronged approach to combat scams.
3. First, we have strengthened enforcement. Given the transnational nature of internet-related scams we have stepped up collaboration with foreign law enforcement agencies, to dismantle scam syndicates. For example, in December 2021, the SPF worked with the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) to dismantle two scam syndicates believed to have perpetrated job scams and fixed deposit investment scams targeting Singaporeans, involving more than 100 victims and losses amounting to more than S$1.5 million. 15 people were arrested – eight in Malaysia, and seven in Singapore. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has also set up dedicated units to disrupt scammers’ operations. For example, in March 2021, SPF set up the Anti-Scam Division (ASD) to coordinate the SPF’s overall anti-scam investigation and enforcement efforts.
4. Second, through the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams, the SPF coordinates efforts with other public agencies, as well as private sector partners such as banks, e-commerce platforms, and telecommunications companies. This cooperation has been effective at disrupting scammers’ operations, especially those perpetuated over the internet. For example, through Project FRONTIER, the SPF has established processes with financial institutions to swiftly freeze bank accounts suspected of scams, in order to mitigate victims’ losses. From Jan to Nov 2021, the SPF froze more than 5,400 accounts, and recovered more than S$65 million of scam proceeds. We are working with the banks to further strengthen measures to prevent scams, such as enhancing their fraud controls to facilitate timely detection and blocking of suspicious transactions. We are also working with e-commerce platforms to further improve user identification and authentication, and enhance transaction safety.
5. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) also collaborated with GovTech and SPF to develop ScamShield, a mobile application which identifies and filters out scam messages. It also blocks calls from phone numbers that were used in other scam cases or which were reported by ScamShield users. ScamShield was launched in November 2020 for iOS platform users and will be available on the Android platform this year.
6. In addition, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had worked with the telecom operators to block known numbers used to perpetuate scams, including those that start with “+656” or spoof the numbers of well-known government agencies. IMDA and SPF have also stepped up efforts to educate the public not to pick up calls with a “+” or “+65” prefix if they are not expecting any calls from overseas.
7. Given the investigative challenges associated with transnational scammers, prevention is the best solution. It is imperative that the public is aware of the tell-tale signs of scams. The best defence against scams is a discerning public, and our third area of focus is to take an upstream approach by creating strong public awareness on scams. Our anti-scam public education campaign, called ‘Spot the Signs. Stop the Crimes.’ is in its second year. The campaign focuses on using real-life examples to build awareness and vigilance amongst the public on the tell-tale signs of scams. As part of this campaign, we have shared materials advising the public against sharing personal details such as log-in credentials and one-time-passwords (OTP) with unverified parties.
8. To bolster public awareness, the SPF and NCPC partnered with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) on various initiatives to educate bank customers. For example, the banks have introduced an online quiz on scam prevention. They have also sent out advisories to customers to remind them not to share their OTPs with others.
9. Combatting scams is a whole of society effort, and members of the community play an important role in the fight. We urge the public to be alert, and to raise our collective awareness of scams by sharing scam prevention tips with your friends and family. Examples of scam prevention tips include not responding to requests for personal information from unverified sources, and to practise healthy skepticism - pause, check, and confirm before providing personal information to anyone.
10. We will continue to strengthen our public education and awareness efforts, working closely with other Government agencies and private stakeholders to better protect the public against scams.