Published: 30 July 2022
1. Thank you for inviting me to this very meaningful and important event.
Scams Situation in Singapore
2. As we all know, the scams situations in Singapore is very, very concerning. In the last five years, the number of scam reports has quadrupled. Four times.
(a) In 2021 alone, there were close to 24,000 reported scam cases, with total losses of more than $600 million. I said reported cases, because not all victims would report the scam. This may be because they feel that the monies are gone. They may feel that they are not able to get their monies back because it has been transferred overseas through online means. Some of the victims would also not report because they may be concerned about being stigmatised or they are feeling ashamed. They may be psychologically scarred and they may not wish to come forward. That said, we still have 24,000 reported cases in just one year. Imagine the scale of this.
(b) Based on the National Prevalence Survey of Scams conducted by MHA in 2019, the large majority of scam victims have come across anti-scam campaigns. So actually the Police, with the community partners have done a lot of work. Our surveys show that 70% of respondents know about scam campaigns. But they might not be able to recall specific scam prevention tips. Many individuals may also feel that they themselves would not fall prey to scams, and they may not actively take measures to protect themselves or those around them. For instance, they may still open mails from unknown sources.
3. Today, we are gathered here today in particular to discuss and work together to protect our senior citizens. Senior citizens are amongst the groups that are most vulnerable to scams. And given that most senior citizens are not working, and depend on their retirement savings or living, the losses take on especially hard.
(a) In 2021, Internet Love Scams, and China Officials Impersonation Scams were the top scam types that our senior citizens fall prey to. In these scams, the perpetrators deceive the victims into revealing their personal credentials, or transferring monies to the perpetrators.
(b) I would like to share with you two examples. Earlier this year, a 75-year-old Singaporean lady lost $1 million of her retirement savings to scammers pretending to be China officials. The scammers deceived her into handing over details of her Singpass account and banking credentials, by alleging that she was involved in money laundering offences in China. $1 million was what she lost. And consider this. Can you imagine how she felt during the process when she thought that she was being investigated by China officials, the scam China officials. Can you imagine at her age, how terrified she must be feeling at that point in time? And then to go through that, and after that to find out that she had lost her retirement savings, whatever she was using to keep herself sustained for the rest of her life. Can you imagine the impact on her psychologically?
(c) Another example, just earlier this week, I was talking to a resident of mine. She was almost in tears. Her mother-in-law is a 68-year-old lady and works as a cleaner. Her mother-in-law’s bank account was totally wiped out again, by China Officials Impersonation Scam. Imagine a lady, 68 years old, working as a cleaner. Do you know how many floors she must have swept and mopped and how many hours she worked, only to be swindled of her money, her hard-earned money, by people calling her pretending to be China officials. I think it is terrible. Not just about the monies lost, but about the psychological scarring on these victims. I was told that this 68-year-old lady has not slept well ever since the incident that happened in May this year, and she now relies on sleeping pills today to be able to rest. Her family members are very, very worried about her. They are worried about her health condition. They are worried that she might not be able to find her strength to carry on.
(d) So, like I was saying, the impact of scams to the elderly is not just about the monies lost, but also the huge psychological impact. At that elderly age, they often have no means to earn the monies back. They also do not have the energies perhaps, to earn the monies back. But then what do they depend on for their living?
Ongoing Anti-Scam Efforts
4. So coming back to what we can do together today. I chair the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS), which coordinates efforts by Government agencies and private sector partners in our fight against scams. And our efforts are centred around three main areas.
(a) First, detection and disruption. The Police works closely with telecommunication companies to block scam websites, and with banks to freeze accounts suspected to be involved in scam activities.
(b) Second area is on enforcement. Earlier this year, the Police formed the Anti-Scam Command to consolidate expertise in scams across all the land units in the Singapore Police Force. This will help to enhance the coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations. The Police also works with foreign counterparts and they undertake joint operations to bust scams as many scam operations operate transnationally.
(c) Third, very importantly is about education. This is an extremely critical area of work, because the best defence that we have is a discerning public. Discerning individuals who are able to empower themselves to guard against scams at the individual level. The Police have established strong partnerships with various public and private sector agencies to develop measures and raise awareness to fight scams. Our next goal is to further empower the public when it comes to the reporting of scams and also moving from just awareness to actually taking individual action to protect ourselves against scams.
Launch of Project PRAISE
5. This afternoon, I am very pleased to be here today to announce the launch of Project PRAISE. PRAISE is an interesting acronym and it stands for Police-RSVP Anti-Scam Engagement. It represents the successful partnership between Ang Mo Kio Division and RSVP Singapore. The name PRAISE also recognises the very important efforts of the volunteers who are senior citizens themselves. These volunteers reach out to their fellow senior citizens to spread anti-scam messages. I understand that the name PRAISE was born out of conversations with these volunteers. Having volunteers of the same age group working with the senior citizens to prevent them from falling prey is actually very important and meaningful, because people often times are more likely to trust and be able to have meaningful, trusting conversations with people who are more like them.
6. Because we come from a similar background, we speak a common language, we perhaps have been through similar shared and lived experiences, and are better able to communicate with each other. And I think for our targeted segment today, we have been talking about senior citizens, we often times probably have to have one senior citizen talk to another because they probably understand the use of digital devices at a certain level, and if one needs to explain to another person what are the additional steps one needs to take to guard yourself and have the right settings in your phone to protect yourselves, the person who is listening may better understand what is happening because the person speaking to him or her is using language that he or her understands.
7. Since November last year, the Ang Mo Kio Division has been working with RSVP Singapore to train volunteers to take on the roles of PRAISE advocates.
(a) Ang Mo Kio Division has conducted a series of training sessions for the first batch of PRAISE advocates. These have equipped our volunteers with the latest scam knowledge and scam prevention tips, as well as effective ways of engaging their target audience. Police officers from the Community Policing Unit will also join PRAISE advocates when they conduct talks to senior citizens.
(b) These PRAISE advocates will assist in training their fellow senior citizens who have newly signed up to become PRAISE advocates.
8. On behalf of the Police, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Sengkang GRC Group Constituency Directorate’s support in reaching out to residents. This partnership has allowed us to reach out to residents across the Sengkang West, Sengkang Central and Sengkang East constituencies.
9. Since November 2021, we have recruited a total of 51 PRAISE advocates, and reached out to more than 526 senior citizens. You must know that every single senior citizen you reach, potentially would have stopped one more person from becoming a scam victim. It is as good as saving a person’s life if you think back about the incidents that I shared earlier.
(a) I would like to give special mention to Mr James Loo, an RSVP volunteer and one of our pioneer PRAISE advocates. James has been our role model in reaching out and educating his fellow senior citizens on scam prevention tips. He has delivered four anti-scam talks, and he reached out to 160 senior citizens in the process.
(b) I understand that James is here with us today. You are our everyday hero, a hero without a cape. Thank you for your contributions to our fight against scams.
10. All PRAISE advocates are also members of Community Watch Scheme, or CWS in short.
(a) As members of CWS, PRAISE advocates will receive and share the latest crime information and prevention messages from the Police.
(b) PRAISE advocates will also encourage their fellow senior citizens to sign up for CWS. This is critical in extending our crime prevention outreach efforts, and enhancing vigilance amongst members of the public.
11. Moving forward, the Police intend to scale up Project PRAISE beyond Ang Mo Kio Division, to reach out to more senior citizens.
(a) In fact, our PRAISE advocates have already begun delivering anti-scam talks to senior citizens in other constituencies outside of Ang Mo Kio Division.
12. Let us remember this. Scam types will continue to change and to evolve. In the Police force, we often look at it as a cat-and-mouse game. We may be evolving our techniques to go and organise ourselves. Go and try to apprehend and arrest these scam perpetrators. But at the same time, these scam perpetrators are doing it for profit. An immoral profit to be exact. They are constantly thinking of how to up their game to trick us, to scam us from our hard-earned monies. So even as we increase our enforcement, even as we increase our intel, those on the other side, these scam perpetrators, they are also upping their game. So at the end of the day, what is the best way to protect ourselves? It comes back to individual effort. It comes back to being vigilant. So everyone has a part to play in our fight against scams.
(a) I thank those who have stepped forward to help to spread anti-scam messages by signing up as PRAISE advocates.
(b) And I look forward to seeing more senior citizens step up, join in, sign up as PRAISE advocates and joining us in the fight against scams.
13. With that, I thank you very much, and congratulations on a successful launch of the project.