SINGAPORE: In the fight against increasingly sophisticated scams, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) launched a new anti-scam helpline on Sunday (Nov 20) to give advice to the public on such ploys, should they suspect that they have fallen for one.
The anti-scam hotline number, manned by the NCPC, is 1800 722 6688. It operates from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
They have also launched a new anti-scam television commercial - the fourth to date - to raise greater awareness of such scams. Starring local celebrity Li Nanxing, it highlights how impersonation scams, Internet love scams and credit-for-sex scams are carried out in Singapore.
It shares three simple points with viewers when it comes to dealing with such scams - not to panic, not to believe the scammers and not to give in to their demands.
The police said the move is part of outreach efforts to raise the public's awareness of such scams, which according to latest figures still remain high. For example, reported scams involving the impersonation of China officials stands at 249 in the three months from July to September - higher than the 179 cases reported for six months between January and June this year.
NCPC vice-chairman Gerald Singham said Singapore residents tend to be trusting, which lends itself to being exploited by scammers.
"Indeed it is a battle and a challenge that we have on our hands, but even more so we've got to try to create education and awareness in our residents - we cannot give up. And indeed it is worrying - we have something like about 22 victims reporting scams a day, losing about S$120,000 a day. That's a lot, and a dollar too many," said Mr Singham.
"We cannot stop, we cannot retreat - we need to create that awareness and education, and we're hopeful and encouraged that eventually these education protocols will come up, and then through word-of-mouth through friends, through families and even through the Internet where education can also take place, to guard against such unscrupulous scammers."
Among all reported scam cases between January and September this year, police data showed that those involving the impersonation of China officials have netted the most money, cheating a total S$21 million from 428 victims. Meanwhile, e-commerce or online purchase scams were the most prevalent, affecting 1,491 victims and netting a total of S$1 million.
PROFILE OF SCAM VICTIMS
According to the police, the majority of victims of impersonation scams involving China officials were aged between 20 and 49 years old, and mostly female. All were Chinese.
As for Internet love scams, the majority were aged between 30 and 59 years old, and mostly Chinese women. In more than half of the cases, the criminals used Facebook as the initial approach, the police said, adding that other popular platforms include Tinder and Skout.
Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a police spokesman said that people of all ages and occupations can be scammed, and that “the public perception that victims of impersonation scams are less literate pioneer generation Singaporeans is not accurate”. In fact, one of the biggest scam cases this year involved a 62-year-old lecturer who lost S$600,000 to an impersonation scam.
“One key reason why people fall for scams is the tactics used by scammers. The tactics used are commonly seen in mass marketing or sales contexts and are known to be effective in influencing consumer behaviour,” said Mr Jeffery Chin, senior psychologist at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Given that scammers use tactics that exploit errors in decision making and use persuasion tactics known to be effective in influencing people, it is possible that everyone is vulnerable to scams.”
In the context of impersonation scams, for example, Mr Chin said some of the tactics include targeting basic needs and desires, such as fear or a desire to be liked; playing on people’s trust in authority figures; and emphasising the urgency of the situation and giving their targets limited time to consider.
The TV commercial and anti-scam hotline were both launched on Sunday at the annual Festive Season Crime Prevention Campaign at Rivervale Plaza. Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean was present at the event.