Defence Against Cyber Scams: Empowering You Against Fraud Programme – Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development

Published: 26 March 2024

Mr Ng Tian Chong, CEO, Singtel Singapore

Mr Seah Chin Siong, President and CEO, SIM

Ms Janet Young, Managing Director and Head of Group Channels and Digitalisation, UOB

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to join you in the launch of the “Defence Against Cyber Scams: Empowering You Against Fraud” Programme, jointly developed by SIM, UOB, and the Singtel Cyber Security Institute.

2. I am heartened to see private sector organisations coming together to enhance public vigilance against scams. 

3. Scams continue to be a key concern in Singapore. You have heard the statistics. Last year, the number of scam cases increased by almost 50% to reach 46,600.There was a slight decrease in the total amount of monies lost, but the losses remain significant, at about $650 million. What does this translate to, in terms of average (figures) - it means that every day, there are more than 100 persons being scammed. On average, every victim lost about $14,000 per scam case.  

4. All too easy for us is to look at the overall macro numbers, and not see the individual victim behind these numbers. And that is why I thought to share with you these average numbers. Because when we start thinking about it as every day, there are more than 100 victims, many of them fellow Singaporeans here in Singapore, and on average, each victim is losing $14,000 of hard-earned monies, then I think it brings the gravity of the situation to you. 

5. We may think that the elderly are more vulnerable to scams, but clearly, the numbers suggest otherwise. Nearly 30% of scam victims were youths and young adults aged 29 and below, while about 43% of the scam victims were adults aged 30 to 49. This means that three in four scam victims are aged below 50 years old. So this is a problem that can affect anyone, young or old. 

WOG Efforts to Combat Scams

6. The Government has been working closely with private sector players such as banks and telecommunication companies to prevent scams from happening. 

7. For example,

(a) Earlier this year, IMDA worked with telcos to offer consumers the option to block international calls. This builds on existing measures by the telcos to block overseas spoofed calls and also to implement the SMS Sender ID Registry. 

(b) At the Anti-Scam Command, bank staff are co-located with the Police. The Police work closely with banks to trace scam proceeds and freeze scam-tainted bank accounts. In 2023, the Anti-Scam Command froze more than 19,600 bank accounts and recovered more than $100 million. This could not have been achieved if not for the close collaboration between Anti-Scam Command and the banks.

8. We will continue to invest in technical defences and strengthen our enforcement measures to deal with scams. These are necessary, but insufficient to win the battle against scams. 

9. Last year, 92% of scam losses, or about $600 million, were driven by scams using social engineering and deception. What this means is that, oftentimes, scammers manipulated victims into transferring monies, and this makes it difficult for the banks, because it is, in a way, authorised by the victims. So it is important to enhance public vigilance against scams, and empower the public to safeguard themselves and their loved ones. 

ACT Campaign

10. The Ministry of Home Affairs had launched the ACT (Add, Check, Tell) campaign last year to urge the public to adopt precautionary measures. 

11. The ACT campaign reminds everyone that we must all stay vigilant, and we can all play a role to prevent scams. We also encourage bank officers to adopt the ACT campaign as well, to promote the ACT framework amongst your customers. 

Bank Officers’ Efforts in Foiling Scams

12. Apart from educating the public, banks also play a key role in preventing the occurrence of scams. Some of us may have read in news about how frontline bank officers had helped save customers from love scams and Government officials impersonation scams. 

13. Let me share about a recent case in December 2023, where a UOB staff successfully averted scam losses through his proactive efforts: 

(a) In December 2023, a 71-year-old victim deposited $1,000 to open a UOB account under the instructions of the scammers. She then transferred $180,000, which were monies withdrawn from her CPF, to the UOB account. Withdrawing from CPF means that these are her retirement funds. She’s 71 years old, meaning that if she were to lose this money, it would be very difficult for her to have new income to supplement her retirement. She did this because she had been manipulated into thinking that she was assisting in an investigation against her by the China police.

(b) Fortunately, a UOB staff picked up the activity and immediately put a hold on the victim’s account. At the same time, he referred the case to the Police, and the Community Policing Unit was deployed to engage the victim and warn her about the scam. This is an important point as well, the psychological part - the fact that the Community Policing Unit was activated showed that it is important for there to be engagement with the victim, to prevent the scam from proceeding or other forms of the scam from harming her, in this case.

(c) The story did not end there. The victim was coerced by further threats by the scammers and tried to get another UOB staff to lift the hold on her account. Such is the intensity of the social engineering that has gone into changing her mind, changing her perspective, manipulating her into thinking that she was being investigated by the Chinese Police in this case. Such was the hold that the scammers have on this victim. UOB alerted the Police again, and when Police re-engaged the victim with the support of her son, she was finally convinced that she had been part of a scam, and could have been potentially a scam victim.

14. As a result of the close collaboration between UOB and the Police, the victim’s $181,000 was saved.

15. This is just one example. In 2023, there were more than 590 such interventions done by the banks and the Anti-Scam Command, which prevented more than $44 million worth of losses.

16. Moving forward, the Government will come up with new legislation to protect vulnerable victims from scams. 

Importance of Training Bank Staff

17. Clearly, from the example that I have just shared, frontline bank staff can make a big difference in detecting and preventing scams. So I welcome this new training programme, which has been specially curated for UOB officers.

18. We all know that the challenge of preventing scams is that it is an ever-evolving landscape. 

(a) Firstly, in terms of technology which is being used to aid the facilitation of scams. 

(b) Secondly, in terms of different scam typologies to target different areas of human vulnerabilities. 

19. Law enforcement officers, together with stakeholders, such as banks, thus have to employ sense-making techniques and frameworks to enable the collection, analysis and identification of patterns to make informed decisions, in situations where there may be no precedents, and oftentimes complicated by human factors. This is especially important for frontline personnel who may be in time-sensitive situations. They are at the battlefront dealing with customers who may have succumbed to social engineering, and are in the process of being scammed, or the bank officer is actually dealing with a scammer who is acting out a role in front of the bank officer, and in the process of carrying out a scam. Having a sense-making framework in place serves as a valuable tool for frontline personnel, to aid them to effectively engage with and address scam deceptions and scenarios.

20. Central to the programme’s approach is the concept of sense-making, which involves understanding the perspectives and motivations of both the scam victim as well as the scammer. So I understand that, later, we’ll be doing a tour and we’ll have a chance to engage in role play, to put ourselves in the shoes of the scammer or the victim, so we can better anticipate the antics, the strategies, the tactics that could be used during a scam. This deeper understanding of technical, psychological and emotional vulnerabilities can better equip all officers with knowledge and skills to identify, report and intervene to prevent scams. Our hope is that with the right training, our bank officers can add another layer to Singapore’s defence against scams, and also protect your customers from falling victim.


21. In closing, let me end off with a quote that Mr Seah had earlier used, “知己知彼,百战百胜” . Let me thank you for your dedication to this fight against scams. It is my hope that with each of us playing our part, we can and will prevail in this war against scams.