SINGAPORE: More than S$201 million was cheated in the top 10 scam types last year, with the total number of reported scam cases increasing to more than 15,700 cases in 2020.
The total number of scam cases reported rose by 65.1 per cent from 9,545 cases in 2019 to 15,756 last year. These scam cases also made up a bigger proportion of overall crime – 42.1 per cent last year compared to 27.2 per cent in 2019.
“In particular, online scams saw a significant increase as Singaporeans carried out more online transactions due to the COVID-19 situation,” the police said in a press release on Tuesday (Feb 9).
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"Criminals moved their illegal activities online and developed new tactics to target potential victims," said Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police How Kwang Hwee, director of the Criminal Investigation Department.
Among the top 10 scam types, e-commerce scams, social media impersonation scams, loan scams and banking related phishing scams are of "particular concern” said the police, adding that such crimes constituted 68.1 per cent of the top 10 scam types last year.
“Furthermore, the total number of reported cases for these scams increased sharply by 78.5 per cent, compared to the same period in 2019.”
E-commerce scams remain the top scam type, with the highest number of reported cases last year. Investment scams had the largest impact on victims, with almost S$70 million cheated in more than 1,100 cases.
The largest sum cheated in an investment scam case was S$6.4 million, which is also the highest among the scam types.
The number of China official impersonation scam cases, which were the next most costly at a total of S$39.6 million, marked a small decrease in the number of cases reported - down from 456 cases in 2019 to 443 last year.
Director of the Commercial Affairs Department David Chew said that scammers make use of people's "key weakness" – their emotions.
"They use our fear, our lust and our greed to make us do things that we would not do if we had just calmed ourselves down and actually looked inwards. Many times, in the heat of the moment, we do things that we, in retrospect, will regret," he said.
"It’s important for us to have friends and family around us to see and spot the differences that we sometimes don’t see. It’s not cognitive, it’s something from the heart."
INCREASE IN NUMBER OF REPORTED CRIMES
The rise in the number of scam cases led to an increase in the total number of reported crimes, the police said. There were 37,409 reported crimes in 2020, up 6.5 per cent from 35,115 the previous year.
According to the police, if scam cases were excluded, the total number of reported crimes in 2020 would have had a 15.3 per cent year-on-year decrease.
The overall crime rate also increased, from 616 cases per 100,000 population in 2019 to 658 per 100,000 population last year. This was even as the number of theft and related crimes, and housebreaking and related crimes recorded a 36-year low. Crimes such as outrage of modesty and unlicensed moneylending also registered a fall in numbers.
Cyber extortion cases rose by 260.3 per cent from 68 cases in 2019 to 245 last year.
However Singapore remains one of the safest cities in the world, the police noted, quoting Gallup’s 2020 Global Law and Order report, in which the country was ranked first for the seventh consecutive year.
E-COMMERCE REMAINS THE TOP SCAM
The number of e-commerce scam cases rose by 19.1 per cent to 3,354 cases in 2020. The total amount cheated in these cases tripled from S$2.3 million in 2019 to S$6.9 million last year, the police said. The largest sum cheated in a single case last year was S$1.9 million.
Online marketplace Carousell continued to have the largest number of e-commerce scams, the police said, with more than 1,300 cases reported on its platform.
“Common scam transactions involved sales of electronic gadgets, COVID-19 related items and personal accessories,” the police said.
While the numbers reported on another online marketplace, Shopee, were lower, it recorded an almost three-fold increase from 278 in 2019 to 697 in 2020.
SOCIAL MEDIA IMPERSONATION AND OTHER SCAMS
Social media impersonation scams, banking-related phishing scams and non-banking related phishing scams also registered significant increases in 2020, the police said.
The number of social media impersonation scam cases almost quadrupled from 786 to 3,010, and total amount cheated rose to at least S$5.5 million in 2020, from at least S$3.1 million in 2019.
The largest sum cheated in a single social media impersonation scam case in 2020 was S$367,000.
“In the majority of these cases, victims were tricked into disclosing their mobile numbers or credit card information and One-Time Passwords (OTPs) to scammers who used compromised or spoofed social media accounts to impersonate their victims’ friends or followers on social media platforms,” the police said.
Scammers would often claim to help their victims sign up for fake online contests or promotions, the police added. The victims would later discover that unauthorised transactions had been made from their bank accounts or mobile wallets.
Instagram and Facebook were the most common social media platforms where such scams happened, the police said.
The number of banking-related phishing scam cases rose by more than 1,500 per cent, from 80 in 2019 to 1,342 last year. The total amount cheated for such cases increased to at least S$5.8 million in 2020, from at least S$491,000 in 2019.
For most of these cases, victims were tricked into disclosing Internet banking usernames, Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) and OTPs to scammers posing as bank employees, the police said.
“The scammers would then access victims’ bank accounts or their bank card information, and perform unauthorised transactions,” the police added. Social messaging applications such as IMO, Viber and WhatsApp were the most common platforms used by the scammers to communicate with the victims.
The number of non-banking related phishing scam cases, which involved scammers using reasons such as checks on the delivery status of a parcel to persuade victims to give up their banking credentials or card details and OTPs, also jumped by 1,214 per cent.
MOBILE APPLICATION TO FILTER SCAM
The police said efforts to combat scams in Singapore include a new mobile application to filter out scam. ScamShield, which was launched in November and available only for iPhone users, filters out SMSes and phone calls sent and made by scammers. An Android version is being worked on, the police said.
The app, jointly developed by the National Crime Prevention Council and the Government Technology Agency, identifies and filters out scam messages using artificial intelligence. It also blocks calls from phone numbers that were used in other scam cases or reported by ScamShield users, the police said.
Since its launch, the app has been downloaded by more than 84,000 users. A total of 263,100 SMSes and more than 2,300 phone numbers believed to be used for scam calls have been blocked, the police added.