Channel NewsAsia

E-commerce scams driving increase in crime rate: Police

There have also been significant spikes in cyber extortion and Internet love scams. Police believe the distinct shift to crimes being perpetrated online is best combated through raising awareness. 

SINGAPORE: Cases of cheating involving e-commerce spiked 425 per cent on-year in the first six months of 2014, which contributed to the overall crime rate in Singapore climbing 1.4 per cent, the Singapore Police Force said on Wednesday (Aug 13).

The police said in its Mid-Year Crime Brief report that there were 15,219 criminal cases reported between January and June this year, compared to 15,006 cases over the same period last year, with 10-year lows recorded for housebreaking, theft and related crimes.

However, cheating involving e-commerce rose sharply from 96 cases reported in the first six months of 2013 to 504 cases over the same period this year.

Two types of scams, in particular, saw significant increases. The Multiple Payment Online Purchase Scam saw a 2,223 per cent increase, with 302 cases reported in the first half of 2014, compared with 13 cases reported in 2013. The PayPal Email Scam also saw a 775 per cent rise to 31 cases in 2014, over the four cases reported last year, the report showed.

SPIKE IN CYBER EXTORTION AND INTERNET LOVE SCAMS

Cyber extortion was also highlighted, with a 247 per cent increase this year to 132 cases. In comparison, there were 38 cases reported in the first six months of 2013.

Victims are typically coaxed into performing compromising acts in front of a webcam, then blackmailed by the culprits, who threaten to publicly post photos or videos of the act.

"Victims are typically males in their 20s to 30s, and the perpetrators are usually based overseas," said Tanglin Police Division's head of investigation Justin Wong. "The police have worked closely with our international counterparts to curb such crimes."

Classified under the Police's "violent or serious property crimes" category, cyber extortion contributed significantly to the category's rise of 39.3 per cent - the highest among all categories. The police said cyber extortion forms the majority of the increase in attempted extortion and extortion cases.

The total amount cheated increased from at least S$22,000 in 2013 to at least S$57,000 in 2014, according to the report. The Police said they will study crime patterns, and work closely with financial institutions and online platforms to remind users of such online scams.

Meanwhile, Internet love scams are up by 273 per cent - an increase of 60 cases from the 22 reported over the same period last year. Most cases involve suspects from Britain targeting women in search of love online.

Scammers use a variety of tactics to win the trust of their victims - this process is called "grooming", and can happen almost exclusively online. For instance, before they actually engage their victims, they may study the profile of their victims for their likes and dislikes, and present themselves as being similar to the victims.

Perpetrators may also adopt online personas, often as persons in positions of authority. These personas will have certain elements of vulnerability, so that their victims will be more likely to help them subsequently.

"Scammers will shower their victims with a lot of attention, and encourage the exchange of personal information," said Jeffrey Chin, Assistant Director of the Crime, Investigation and Forensic Psychology Branch at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre. "This enhances the intimacy of the relationship, and makes it more likely that the victims will help them."

"The latest statistics show a distinct shift to crimes being perpetrated online. The most effective way to combat this is through crime prevention," said Mr Tan Boon Gin, the Singapore Police Force's Director of Commercial Affairs. "In addition to our public education efforts, we will be studying the crime patterns to see how we can work with online platforms and financial institutions to remind users about online scams at the most opportune moments of a transaction.”

Police Assistant Commissioner (AC) Melvin Yong, Director of its Public Affairs Department, added that the Internet makes everyday tasks faster and more convenient, like shopping, banking, research and communicating on the go. However, not everything seen on the Web is true and people online may not be who they appear to be, he said.

"I believe the best vaccine against online scams is to immunise our community through public awareness, to get as many people as we can to talk about the scams," AC Yong said.

RAPE, SERIOUS HURT CRIMES ON THE RISE

Besides online crimes, the report stated that rape and serious hurt crimes were the other two key crime concerns. Rape cases jumped 49.2 per cent year-on-year to 91 cases in 2014, while serious hurt cases went up by 5.3 per cent to 260 cases this year.

The police said serious hurt cases reported at construction sites, in particular, registered an increase of six cases to 22 cases, from the 16 in the first six months of 2013.

The police said it will continue to work with the Ministry of Manpower and stakeholders to "educate foreign workers on Singapore's laws including those that pertain to the consequences of causing serious hurt to others through fights". 

As for rape cases, the rise in overall cases reported is largely attributed to an increase in the number of statutory rape cases involving female minors under 14 years of age who had consensual sex. There were 40 cases reported in the first six months of 2014, 17 more than the 23 reported during the same period last year, police said.

"The culprits in the majority of these statutory rape cases are youth offenders and known to the victims," the report stated. "All stakeholders, including schools, parents, media and the community have an important role to play in educating our youths against underage sex."

RECORD LOWS FOR HOUSEBREAKING, THEFT CASES

There were positives, too, such as the continual decline in housebreaking and theft crime classes.

According to the report, the 8,338 cases of theft and related crimes reported in the first six months of 2014 represented a 10-year low, down from the peak of 11,274 recorded in 2005.  Snatch thefts, for instance, fell by 64 to 83 cases during the first six months this year, from 2013's 147 cases.

Similarly, the 175 cases of housebreaking and related cases during the same period was the lowest in a decade, down from the 847 cases recorded in 2005, the report showed. Housebreaking cases at public housing estates experienced the most significant decrease, falling by 68 per cent from 2013's 114 cases to the 36 cases in 2014.

There was also a decline in unlicensed money-lending and harassment cases for the first half of the year. There was a 31.6 per cent year-on-year drop from 4,729 cases to 3,235 cases for both crimes, the report stated.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia