Published: 25 August 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen.
1. Thank you for inviting me to join you to open today’s inaugural seminar on scams.
Scam Climate in Singapore
2. Scams are a big problem today not just locally, but also around the world.
3. And in Singapore itself, between 2016 and 2020, the number of scams reported to the Police have increased 3-fold, from around 5,400 to about 16,000 cases recently.
4. In 2020, scams accounted for 42% of all crime cases in Singapore, and with the losses estimated about S$265 million. Besides financial losses, we all know the emotional trauma and the consequences of being scammed can be very serious. For example, in my community work, we often come across victims of our residents to share about how they became affected or depressed after losing tens of thousands of dollars to scams.
5. Last year, MHA’s Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre (HTBSC) conducted the National Prevalence Survey on Scams.
a. It was found that actually the majority of respondents – approximately six in 10 – had encountered scams in one way or another in the past one year, indicating that actually there is a high prevalence of scam in Singapore. Of these respondents, approximately seven in 100 had actually fallen victim before.
b. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the elderly that are vulnerable to scams. In fact, survey respondents between the age 20 to 39 made up almost half of the scam victims, although they accounted for only about one-third of the total respondents.
6. Of particular concern are scams that take place over online and digital mediums. Digitalisation has changed the way we live, we work, and interact with one another and have given us a lot of conveniences online. However, we may not possess good cyber knowledge to adequately protect ourselves online and as a result, may be at risk of falling victim to scams. And our surveys showed two behavioural traits.
a. First it showed that victims of scams displayed high usage of digital services such as engaging in frequent shopping, social media interactions, as well as streaming of media online.
b. The other trait is that victims of scams were found to engage in more risky online activities such as frequent downloading of unknown files and making impulsive transactions online.
7. The use of digital technology in itself is not dangerous or a bad thing. However, the proliferation of technology coupled with the lack of safe cyber hygiene habits and the limited knowledge on the scam tactics may increase our vulnerability and our risk to scams.
Building Partnerships to Combat Scams
8. So what can we do? We need to take a collective, multi-pronged approach to fight scams. Government agencies, industries and the community, we all have to work together closely, to counter scams that is evolving very quickly, more effectively.
9. Since 2020, the Government has set up the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (or IMCS), which I chair. The IMCS leverages expert knowledge and resources from different Government agencies such as the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Singapore Police Force, the Ministry of Communications and Information, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as well as the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to coordinate and to synchronise the Government’s response and efforts in anti-scam..
10. Our efforts and our work focuses on four key areas:
a. First, to improve detection and disruption of scams,
b. Second, to mitigate losses of scam victims,
c. Third, to develop measures to secure the digital space, and
d. Fourth, to strengthen our public education efforts.
11. We have made significant progress and strides forward in enhancing our collective capabilities in fighting against scams. Let me just highlight a few.
12. First of all, we have organised ourselves better. We set up the Anti-Scam Division, or the ASD, in March 2021 in the SPF as a “nerve centre” for investigating scam-related cases, focusing on detection, disruption, as well as loss mitigation. The Anti-Scam Centre, which is under the ambit of the ASD recovered close to S$66 million for the first half of this year alone.
a. As many scams involve overseas syndicates, actually ASD has also been working very closely with foreign law enforcement. For example, in June 2021, through strong information-sharing and collaboration by ASD, six transnational syndicates perpetrating job scams, internet love scams and China official impersonation scams were busted by the Royal Malaysian Police, Hong Kong Police Force and the Taiwan Police.
13. Second, we have also strengthened and enhanced our laws. For example, we have introduced the Payment Services Act, which makes it easier to prosecute money mules who assist scammers in transferring the proceeds of their crimes. We will continue to strengthen and look at legislative levers to secure our digital space in the fight against scams.
14. Third, we have tapped on technology to prevent scams. For example, the ScamShield application, which I hope most of us here have downloaded, was developed by the GovTech, the Singapore Police Force as well as the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). It was launched in November 2020. It uses artificial intelligence to identify as well as to filter scam messages and block phone calls.
a. Since its launch in November 2020, ScamShield has been downloaded over 200,000 times.
b. About 1.4 million SMSes have been reported, and around 8,600 suspected scam calls have been blocked.
c. ScamShield is currently available in the iOS version but we are working to launch the Android version in the near future.
15. Fourth, we have strengthened public education efforts as an informed public is our best defence against scams. In partnership with the NCPC, the Government has focused our outreach efforts towards public education on potential scam indicators.
a. The latest anti-scam campaign, titled “Spot the Signs, Stop the Crimes” aims to educate members of the public on how to spot the tell-tale signs of various scams through sharing of scammer tactics.
b. With scammer tactics constantly evolving, these efforts by MHA, NCPC and the Police are important to keep the public abreast of developments and evolution of the scam tactics.
16. The second group that plays an important role in the fight against scams is our industry partners and stakeholders.
17. We work closely together with industry partners such as telcos, banks, social media platforms and e-commerce platforms to protect our people against scams.
18. Our banks are important players in preventing and disrupting scams because of their nexus with financial transactions and their ability to weed out suspicious transactions quickly.
a. Together with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), we have rolled out several initiatives to combat scams. For example, a scam awareness quiz was launched this year to educate members of the public on scams and encourage good cyber hygiene habits. The quiz has been taken more than 110,000 times so far, and we are also working to explore other ways of enhancing the process of one-time pin verification and training of the frontline bank staff to detect and intercept potential scams.
b. Through our Project Frontier Initiative, the Anti-Scam Division has also collaborated with over 30 financial institutions to mitigate losses by freezing the compromised account within one day of reporting. This is as opposed to over several days and weeks in the past. In 2020, more than S$57 million in scam proceeds were recovered because of this project’s effort.
19. Last year, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the telcos also worked together to introduce the ‘+’ prefix initiative for all overseas calls entering Singapore. This has helped to alert the public of potential suspicious and spoofed calls from overseas scams. So today, if you receive any +65 phone calls it is likely to be spoofed call from overseas because all local calls would not have a +65 prefix in it.
20. As many scams arise from online transactions, we also work with e-commerce platforms to tackle scams.
a. We are working with platforms such as Lazada and Carousell, to further improve user identification and authentication, transaction safety and security, as well as loss remediation.
b. For example, Lazada introduced an early detection algorithm system which was developed using online behavioural analytics to flag potential fraud and automatically removing suspected abnormalities. This system has led to a significant reduction in scam reports by Lazada by over 80% in 2020.
21. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure our solutions remain effective against evolutions in scammer tactics.
22. Lastly, members of the community play an important role in the fight against scams.
a. We can all do our part by being alert and practising good cyber hygiene and also healthy scepticism especially when transferring money to unfamiliar persons. With many scams perpetrated by overseas syndicates, prosecuting them and recovering losses can be challenging and complicated. But if you do fall victim, please report the case immediately to the Police or the banks so that the transfer of money can be frozen and prevented before it goes out of Singapore.
b. We can also raise our collective awareness of scams by talking to our friends or loved ones and our families about them. A potential victim had shared with us how he evaded falling victim to scam as he was alerted by someone he knows, his peers, that a sales promotion link that he shared was not legitimate. And through conversations like these about scams, we can alert each other about potential scams, and thus better protect our families, our loved ones, our friends from becoming scam victims.
c. The best defence against scams is an alert and vigilant public.
23. In closing, I would like to thank the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre for organising today’s event, and for preparing the exciting line-up of discussions today.
24. I am also very grateful to my colleagues, the community, as well as our industry partners who are here today, for their close collaboration and the support in this important effort.
25. Let us continue to band together in our fight against scams.
26. I wish everyone a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.