At least S$38 million lost to impersonation scams in 2019: Shanmugam

At least S$38 million lost to impersonation scams in 2019: Shanmugam

Woman using a mobile phone while looking at a computer screen
File photo of someone using a phone and looking at a computer.

SINGAPORE: Victims of impersonation scams were cheated of at least S$38 million from January to November last year, amid a rise in the number of scam cases reported.

In a written response to a parliamentary question, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said that the number of scam cases reported and the amount of money cheated has increased over the past three years.

Three types of impersonation scams are of particular concern: China officials impersonation scams, social media impersonation scams and tech support scams, said the minister.

According to Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, there were 401 cases of China officials impersonation scams from January to November 2019, up from 188 cases in 2017. 

The amount scammed also increased to at least S$18.8 million in 2019, from S$12.8 million in 2017.

Social media impersonation scams went up nearly 10-fold from 71 cases in 2017 to 672 cases from January to November 2019, while the amount of money cheated also went from S$168,000 in 2017 to S$7.2 million.

Social media impersonation scammers use compromised or spoofed social media accounts to pose as friends or family members of victims.

The number of tech support scams also went up significantly, from the 53 cases reported in 2017 to 224 cases in the first 11 months of 2019.

The amount of money cheated went up from S$36,000 in 2017 to at least S$12 million last year.

Scammers in tech support scams pretend to be staff of telecommunications companies or law enforcement officers and deceive victims into installing malicious software on their computers.

Mr Shanmugam's response comes after the Singapore Police Force released information about various scams committed last year.

At least S$32 million was lost in email scams from January to September 2019, where scammers impersonated business partners or employees of victims.

In the same period, scammers also used Facebook accounts to cheat victims out of at least S$1.2 million.

An islandwide operation against scams in October 2019 resulted in 154 people being investigated for their suspected involvement in mostly e-commerce scams.

YOUNGER VICTIMS BEING TARGETED

Mr Shanmugam added that younger people have also fallen prey to impersonation scams.

He said that while the victims of China officials impersonation scams used to be of all ages, more than half the victims in 2019 were below the age of 30.

For social media scams, victims in their 20s to 40s accounted for 60 per cent of all such victims in 2019, he said.

Both the elderly and the young have also fallen for tech support scams, he added. 

To raise awareness, the police have been working with various other organisations such as the National Crime Prevention Council and residents' committees, said Mr Shanmugam.

"Criminals are constantly evolving their methods to deceive people into parting with their money. No amount of police resources will be enough," said Mr Shanmugam.

"The key to the fight against scams is a discerning public. We should be sceptical of incredulous inducements promised by scammers, transact only on reliable platforms, and develop a habit of checking with the actual authorities when approached by dubious entities purporting to be officials."

Source: CNA/cc(hm)

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