Published: 18 January 2023
1. Good afternoon everyone, to our friends who are here with us on-site, as well as those who have joined us online. A warm welcome to the second edition of Scaminar, which is organised together with The Straits Times. The theme for this year’s Scaminar is “ACT Against Scams”.
2. We have a 700-person strong audience with us here today, as well as online participants. Our many participants come from Government agencies, private sector and community partners, members of the public, and many others who have joined us online. Thank you for your participation today.
Scams Situation in Singapore
3. I think we can all agree, by and large, Singapore is a safe and secure country. Last year, we were ranked the safest country in the world by the Gallup Global Law and Order Report. Physical crimes continue to remain low and stable.
4. However, scams have increased significantly, and have become the main driver of crimes. In fact, over the last five years, the number of scam reports have increased by more than four folds. On the stage here, you can see that from 2017 to 2021, more than 60,000 scam cases were reported with a combined loss of a staggering more than $1 billion. Imagine behind these numbers, there are victims. Behind these individual victims, there are families. Many people have been impacted by scams.
5. Scams present a significant challenge to all law and enforcement agencies across the world. In Singapore, I would like to specifically mention that:
(a) The vast majority of our scams – in fact more than 90% – are perpetrated by scammers based outside Singapore.
(b) We are talking about scammers who are part of organised criminal groups. They run sophisticated transnational operations which are well-resourced and extensive in their networks.
(c) A news article dated Sept 2022 writes of a love scam turned into human trafficking which eventually led to the death of a Malaysian man. It was also reported that victims of these human trafficking syndicates were housed in large complexes in Myanmar near the Thai border, and these victims were forced to work for companies engaged in online scams.
(d) Apart from the brutal methods of these organised crime groups, these scammers are also adept at using technology to cover their tracks.
(e) The number of scams is potentially limitless as they can scale up their scam operations easily via online means. Using computers, they can make millions of scam phone calls, SMSs, Whatsapp and Telegram messages – millions of messages everyday.
(f) Scammers will also continue to exploit and evolve their methods, targeting our human tendencies, our habits and circumstances to continue to harm and scam victims.
6. What this means is that we cannot rely on enforcement alone. The best defence against scams is becoming an aware, watchful and discerning public, who will protect ourselves and also ACT to protect others against scams. I have been talking about what we can do together to ACT against scams. What does “ACT” also stand for?
(a) “ACT” is an acronym for Add, Check and Tell.
(b) Based on the National Prevalence Survey of Scams in 2020, we realised that while most people know about scams, they may not be aware of the specific measures that they can take to protect themselves from scams.
(c) We want to bridge this awareness-action gap, by promoting the ACT framework of Add, Check and Tell. This is the theme of today’s Scaminar, which I will further elaborate later.
Whole-of-Government Effort in Fighting Scams
7. I will first talk about how the Government is protecting Singaporeans against scams, and then explain the three key steps that everyone can take to safeguard ourselves. This is a whole of society effort to fight scams.
8. I chair the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams, or IMCS, which coordinates anti-scams efforts by government agencies, private sector and community partners. We have made significant progress in the following key areas.
(a) First, to prevent and block scammers from approaching victims. We have worked with agencies and industry stakeholders to secure our communications infrastructure.
(i) To prevent scammers from reaching out to victims, the IMDA has worked with the telecommunication companies, or telcos, to block spoofed numbers from overseas.
(ii) Telcos have also implemented anti-scam filters in their networks to identify and block scam SMSes.
(iii) To secure banking channels, the Monetary Association of Singapore has worked with the Association of Banks in Singapore to introduce additional safeguards such as the removal of clickable links in emails or SMSes sent to consumers, and the introduction of cooling-off period for requests to change a customers’ contact details.
(b) Second, to detect and to report scams.
(i) We launched ScamShield in November 2020 for iPhone users, and subsequently extended it to Android users in September 2022. The ScamShield application identifies and blocks scam calls and SMSes. It also comprises a reporting function – members of public can report suspected scam calls and messages via their phones.
(c) Third, to enforce and recover lost monies.
(i) Last year, the Police formed the Anti-Scam Command to consolidate expertise in scams across all the land units in the Police. This will enhance the coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations.
(ii) The Police have also worked with Monetary Association of Singapore to co-locate staff from the six major retail banks at the Anti-Scam Command. This helps facilitate information sharing and fund tracing, and freezing of bank accounts suspected to be involved in the scammers’ operation.
(d) Lastly, a very important pillar of our work is education. Public education is a critical area of work, as the best defence against scams is a discerning public.
(i) In 2020, the Police worked with the National Crime Prevention Council, or NCPC, to launch the anti-scam public campaign called “Spot the Signs. Stop the Crime”, which focuses on sharing real scam examples with the public to educate them on how to spot scam signs.
(ii) And we have achieved significant results. The National Prevalence Survey of Scams in 2020 showed that more than 70% of respondents are aware of these anti-scam campaigns. The very important next step is how we translate this awareness into action, into ways that each and every one of us can take to safeguard ourselves and others against scams.
(iii) So today, we are building on those foundational steps we have undertaken to launch the “I can ACT Against Scams” campaign.
SCAMINAR! ACT Against Scams
9. Public education is a key focus of this year’s Scaminar. The theme for this year is to educate all of us, bring us all together, so we can all “ACT Against Scams”.
10. Why is this important?
11. First, anyone can fall prey to scams. Some of us may think that only selected segments of our population are a target of scams. Some of us think it’s only senior citizens who fall prey to scams. This is not true – the statistics tell us that everyone is vulnerable to scams. For example:
(a) Young adults between 20 and 39 are most prone to job scams, e-commerce scams and phishing scams. These scam types contribute to more than 60% of scams which young adults had fallen prey to between January to November 2022.
(b) For our elderly citizens aged 60 years old and above, phishing scams, fake friend call scams and investment scams contribute to more than 40% of scams that they fall prey to.
12. Second, with difficult economic conditions worldwide, we should expect to see more scams being perpetuated.
(a) Job scams is a key area of concern. I have received job scam messages at the start of the year.
(i) It is now one of the top scam types in Singapore, and the numbers have been increasing.
(ii) Such scams generally involve scammers reaching out to victims through chat applications such as Telegram and WhatsApp, or online advertisements, and entice victims with offers of attractive “commissions” for relatively simple online tasks. Scammers would then require victims to provide their own funds to earn more commission.
(iii) I strongly urge members of the public to be wary of such advertisements or offers. Legitimate companies or job offers will never ask you for money, before starting work.
(iv) We also need to watch out for different permutations of e-commerce scams. With concerns on cost of living, residents may be keener to grab attractive offers without realising that they are scams. In egregious cases, victims may lose more than the dollar value of the scam purchase as they may unwittingly give up control of their bank accounts.
(v) Phishing scams continue to be of concern as well. These scams generally involve scammers impersonating known or trusted entities, with scammers preying on unsuspecting victims who were misled by spoofed URLs, give up their confidential information and become scam victims. Entities such as government agencies, banks and delivery companies have been impersonated as part of these scams, and victims have lost monies due to such phishing scams.
13. We all know that scams impact lives. Beyond financial losses, scams have the potential to severely impact the lives of victims and their families.
(a) At the individual level, the psychological impact of scams often comes in the form of shame, stress and guilt, and this leads to low self-confidence and dignity. Victims may also blame themselves for being taken in by the scam.
(b) At the social level, conflict may result as victims may have borrowed money from family and friends.
(c) We have read in the news, examples of how scams affect victims.
(i) In 2022, a 75-year-old 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 details, by alleging that she was involved in money laundering offences in China.
(ii) As earlier mentioned, the news reported on the case of a love scam turned human trafficking in Malaysia, and the 23-year-old victim lost his life as a result of abuse suffered at the hands of the syndicate members in Myanmar.
(iii) These scam cases reported in the media are not just another story. The victims involved are someone else’s family member, a loved one, a friend, a relative. In fact, the next scam victim could be your loved ones, yourself or potentially even myself. Anyone can be a scam victim.
Launch of ‘I can ACT Against Scams” National Campaign
14. Today, we are launching our national scams campaign – titled “I can ACT Against Scams”. This campaign is led by NCPC, who has been one of our partners throughout the years, a very important partner for scams public education.
15. As I have mentioned, ACT stands for Add, Check, and Tell. These are three important steps that everyone should remember, in order to safeguard yourselves against scams.
(a) ADD. Everyone should make a proactive and conscious effort to ADD the various security features to protect themselves against scams.
(i) One simple way we can do so is to download ScamShield on our mobile devices and encourage our friends and family to do so.
(ii) We can also set up transaction limits for our internet banking transactions, as well as transfers made over Paynow or Paylah. This will limit our monies lost, should we ever fall prey to scams.
(b) Second, CHECK. Always be vigilant, take time to look out for scam signs and ensure the transactions are done via authentic platforms with legitimate parties.
(i) When you receive a phone call or message asking for your personal information, banking credentials, or to transfer money to him/her, always check and verify.
(1) First, check with the organisation involved. If he/she claims to be from a bank, check with the official hotline of the bank.
(2) If he/she claims to be a Government official, check with the agency directly. Remember – Government agencies will never ask for your confidential information or personal particulars over the phone, or via SMSes or emails.
(3) If the message appears to be sent by a delivery company, and you are expecting a delivery, please check with the delivery company directly.
(ii) When making online purchases, check the reviews of the seller, and look out for potential red flags.
(1) We should also check our own responses and emotions when faced with an attractive offer. Take a step back, and ask ourselves, is it too good to be true? If it is too good to be true, it is probably untrue, and a scam.
(2) When making online purchases, do not take your transactions off-platform, especially when making payment. A common scam tactic is to lure victims to other platforms such as WhatsApp or Telegram, and direct victims to make banks transfers for items. However, the victims may not receive these items eventually.
(3) If you want to check on the safety rating of e-commerce platforms, you can refer to the E-commerce Marketplace Transaction Safety Ratings (TSR).
(c) Third, TELL. Play your part by telling authorities about scam encounters. The faster scams are reported to the authorities, the faster the authorities can take action to prevent more people from falling prey to scams.
(i) If you suspect that you have fallen prey to a scam, call and tell your bank immediately to ask the bank to activate the “kill-switch” – this is a feature that the bank can implement immediately, to prevent your money from being transferred away by scammers.
(ii) The ScamShield app, which has a reporting function, also allows you to submit information on scam calls and messages as well.
(iii) You can also tell your family and friends about the latest scams so as to protect them.
16. In the fight against scams, everyone can play a part. I hope that from what I have shared earlier, we can all see how we can play a role in this fight against scams. We can actively involve everyone, involve the community, our loved ones, anyone we know, in our fight against scams, and I am heartened to see our community partners stepping up. For example:
(a) The Police have partnered students from Singapore Polytechnic to develop Scam Busters – an interactive card game that aims to raise awareness of common scam signs and ways we can protect ourselves, through “technique cards”.
(i) A copy of the card game is included in everyone’s goodie bag.
(b) We are also organising a series of engagement sessions to hear the community’s views on how we can fight scams more effectively. We also want to hear suggestions on what more can be done.
(i) We started this journey in November last year, where we had various discussions with partners who represent senior citizens and working adults.
(ii) In the upcoming months, we will continue to engage different community groups to better understand scams in relation to other segments, such as youths and migrant workers.
(iii) Through these engagements, we hope to co-create solutions to better protect different segments of our community against scams and to strengthen our collective defence against scams.
(iv) In particular, we will design our messages and campaigns to cater to the different target audiences, to increase our collective awareness on scams.
(v) We will also look at downstream measures to support victims of scams.
17. In the spirit of community partnership today, I am pleased to invite our stakeholders and community partners to join us for the panel discussions as part of Scaminar 2023.
(a) The first panel will discuss the role that individuals can play, so that each and everyone of us can ACT against scams.
(b) The second panel will discuss the human impact of scams and how we can ACT collectively to safeguard our family and friends.
18. In conclusion, thank you for joining us today for Scaminar 2023. I look forward to hearing your views as well as your questions. Thank you very much.