SINGAPORE: “Most scammers think they are very smart,” said Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Esh Jegadeeshwaran Wadarajan.
In fact, many of these “smart” online scammers would already expect to be caught eventually and are prepared. “They all have a story to tell … to make themselves appear as victims too,” the 33-year-old said on Wednesday (Jun 12).
If anyone has a keen insight on how today’s online scammers operate, it would be ASP Esh. After all, he is one of seven police officers who were brought together to form the E-Commerce Fraud Enforcement and Coordination Team (E-FECT) within the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) last November.
E-FECT was formed amid a backdrop of rising e-commerce scams. According to the latest crime figures, e-commerce scams increased by 11.4 per cent to 2,125 cases and the total amount cheated increased to about S$1.9 million in 2018. Common scams involved electronic products and tickets to events and attractions, police added.
The lean team has made an immediate contribution: It arrested 26 e-commerce scammers and solved more than 230 such scams within the first two months of formation. In fact, its efforts resulted in a team commendation award at this year’s Commissioner of Police’s Commendation Ceremony held on Wednesday.
ASP Esh shared during a media interview on the sidelines of the ceremony that E-FECT’s work primarily targets serial scammers and e-commerce scams.
One of the cases the team worked on during the first two months involved cracking a motor vehicle rental scam. ASP Esh said that there were 56 reports lodged against the scammer and victims had lost S$12,620 in total, but the person proved difficult to apprehend.
He added that the scammer kept changing locations, and the team spent three days monitoring possible locations before pinpointing a hotel as his hideout. Even after being arrested, the person was “very elusive” in the way he answered their questions - which was typical of e-commerce scammers he described as “intelligent” and ready to “spin stories”.
However, the investigation done by E-FECT was thorough enough to corroborate the scams conducted and the scammer has been charged in court, ASP Esh said, adding that he is unable to offer more details as it is still before the courts.
He, together with two other team-mates ASP Clara Wong and Senior Staff Sergeant Eric Low present at the interview, were keen to highlight the support given to them by other Singapore Police Force (SPF) units such as offering the needed manpower to monitor the motor vehicle rental scammer’s different possible locations before the arrest was made.
To date, the team has arrested 40 subjects and solved more than 550 cases that scammed victims out of more than S$200,000, ASP Esh said.
SAFEGUARDS AGAINST SCAMS
Yet, even as enforcement efforts are ramped up, e-commerce scams have continued to be on an upward trajectory.
ASP Esh, having spoken to online scam victims, said they “don’t do proper market research” or check up on the seller’s reputation provided by other customers.
“Sometimes, they are just really desperate for things (with no alternatives) like concert tickets,” said SSS Low, explaining why people still fall for scams despite numerous police advisories to the public.
ASP Wong added that unlike these buyers, scammers do do their homework. Some of their tricks include getting images of what appear to be legitimate tickets or make listings that seem genuine, she revealed.
Some sellers even provide images of their identity card or driving licence to add another layer of credibility in their listings, ASP Esh chimed in.
“But chances are those are not actually the seller’s ID,” he added.
This is why he advised consumers to be wary and opt for things like escrow payment, where funds are only released after the buyer confirms the receipt of the product or service. Online marketplace Carousell, for example, offers its CarouPay payment option - which is key given that police said 70 per cent of e-commerce scams in 2018 took place on its platform.
The alternative would be to go for cash-on-delivery payment, ASP Esh said.
The E-FECT team was one of 40 who received a team commendation award at the Commissioner of Police’s Commendation Ceremony. Additionally, 50 individual and seven high commendation awards were given out in recognition of their “consistent outstanding work, meritorious service and outstanding leadership” for 2018.