Published: 16 October 2023
Mr Stephen Kavanagh
Executive Director of Police Services, INTERPOL
Colleagues and friends
1. Good morning. I am very pleased to be able to address you at this important conference.
Growing Prevalence of Cybercrime
2. Director Kavanagh has given a passionate speech. You can feel his energy and resolve. I think it is indeed these two key attributes that we will need to bring to the fight against cybercrime.
3. In the 2022 INTERPOL Global Crime Trend Report, cybercrime is listed as one of the five crime types that continue to pose a serious threat to governments, businesses and people.
4. Digital connectivity has made it easier for people to reach each other. Unfortunately, it is also making it easier for criminals to reach their victims. Criminals are finding it highly lucrative to exploit new technologies to commit cybercrime, particularly scams, whilst hiding or masking their identities.
5. A study by the Global Anti Scam Alliance found that around US$55 billion was lost to scams worldwide in 2021. I think you and I know, that this is likely an underreported figure, because many victims of scams choose not to report their losses. The reasons are well articulated by Stephen. Sometimes, there is a certain amount of embarrassment, and sometimes there are conflict situations that have arisen at home as a result of such scams having been carried out. And so, the individuals prefer not to have to deal with it. The total number of scams reported was 293 million. Again, my own sense is that this is still an underestimate. These are still, nonetheless, staggering numbers.
6. Likewise, scams have become a key concern for Singapore.
(a) Last year, there were about 32,000 cases reported; S$660 million were lost to scams.
(b) In the first half of this year alone, the total amount lost declined marginally. However, the number of scam cases increased sharply by more than 60%. What this tells us is that the average amount lost by each victim has fallen. But until the cases are significantly reduced, there are still too many distressed victims.
7. The Singapore Police Force has been working closely with other government agencies and private sector organisations to combat scams.
8. In 2019, the Police set up the Anti-Scam Centre, or ASC, to enable the swift interdiction of criminal proceeds. To date, the ASC has frozen more than 49,000 bank accounts and recovered more than S$360 million.
9. In 2022, the Police set up the Anti-Scam Command (ASCom) to consolidate and optimise resources as well as expertise to tackle scams. The command comprises the ASC and the Anti-Scam investigation branches, and oversees the Scam Strike Teams situated within each of the seven Police Land Divisions. This enables swifter and well-coordinated actions.
(a) The ASCom partners more than 90 institutions including local and foreign banks to fight scams.
(b) Today, six banks have deployed their staff in ASCom to facilitate real-time coordination with the Police to trace the flow of funds and freeze suspicious bank accounts.
Importance of International Cooperation
10. However, due to the transnational nature of many of these scams being carried out, tackling them effectively requires countries to work closely together.
11. Singapore certainly does so with our foreign partners and international organisations such as INTERPOL to share information and conduct investigations and joint operations targeting scam syndicates. These efforts have led to successful crackdowns on scam syndicates in the Southeast Asia region. For example:
(a) Singapore took part in INTERPOL’s Operation “Killer Bee”, which involved 11 countries, and led to the arrest of three suspects of malware cyber fraud in May 2022.
(b) Singapore also took part in INTERPOL’s Operation Haechi, from 2020 to 2022, which involved 30 countries, and led to the arrests of more than 2,000 suspects and the recovery of about US$240 million linked to cyber-enabled financial crimes and money laundering.
12. The success of these operations demonstrates the importance of international cooperation in fighting cybercrime.
Improve Asset Recovery
13. One important area that deserves attention is asset recovery. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the global asset recovery rate is less than 1%. Now, this means that perpetrators have been able to keep 99% or more of their criminal proceeds. This is a “return on investment”; an ROI legitimate businesses can only dream about. No corporate CEO will dare to come anywhere close to suggesting to their shareholders that they will have these kinds of return on investment.
14. But, because these criminal proceeds are often extracted from the system through cross-border transfers, unfortunately for victims, the cross-border asset recovery is very unlikely to bear fruit. Funds can be transferred across jurisdictions very quickly, often before the crime is even reported. Law enforcement agencies must react even more quickly and cooperate closely with our counterparts to stop the fund transfer. However, jurisdictions have different standards and processes on tracing fund flows and freezing of funds. It’s no wonder that these syndicates have decided to exploit this weakness.
15. To overcome these challenges, we need a major mindset shift. We have to prioritise asset recovery in order to deter the criminals. As long as criminals get to retain most of their ill-gotten gains, I think it is very difficult to persuade them to stop. They won’t decide that there are other more productive ventures unless we are able to show them that this is not something that will bear too much fruit for them. We must therefore strengthen our work in global asset recovery by cooperating more closely with one another.
(a) We must all have the domestic legal frameworks to enable quick freezing and confiscation of criminal proceeds.
(b) We must adopt tools to enhance our ability to seize and confiscate illegal proceeds.
(c) We also need to strengthen our global law enforcement community – one of the most important features of today’s conference, and collaborate more closely on a global scale.
16. For instance, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), under Singapore’s presidency, has partnered INTERPOL to initiate the FATF-INTERPOL Roundtable Engagement on Asset Recovery (FIRE) last year. This is summarised as the FIRE initiative.
(a) Last month, around 200 experts in financial crime came together at the second FIRE event to discuss how we can overcome global challenges in asset recovery through their panel discussions and sharing of real-life case studies.
(b) Such platforms provide opportunities for the international community to come together to discuss and find solutions to address challenges faced in asset freezing, seizure and confiscation.
(c) Singapore is also working with INTERPOL and Egmont Group at the FATF to co-lead a project to counter the illicit funding of cyber-enabled fraud. This project will provide a comprehensive picture of the risk landscape and share the best practices on national and international responses. We urge countries to review the report when it is published and consider implementing the recommendations.
17. We need to continue these important discussions and collaboration by leveraging bilateral, regional and international platforms such as INTERPOL to improve information sharing and exchange best practices.
18. On this note, let me reinforce once again, the theme of today’s conference being “Creating Communities to Protect Communities”. Indeed, we need the global community to work closer together to fight cybercrime effectively and protect our people from cybercriminals. Let us take the necessary actions as a community so that we can better protect our communities.
19. I wish you all a fruitful conference today. Thank you.