Murali Pillai
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Murali Pillai

AMOUNTS AND PROFILES OF PERSONS INVOLVED IN RECENT PHONE SCAMS

Anecdotally, I have noted feedback that more and more residents are falling victims to scam calls. The scammers, the overwhelming majority of whom are overseas, are amazingly persuasive. Most, if not all of the victims were not able to recover their money too. I therefore asked the Minister for Home Affairs to provide a status report on the scam situation in Singapore and what should be done to arrest the problem.

AMOUNTS AND PROFILES OF PERSONS INVOLVED IN RECENT PHONE SCAMS

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs with regard to online and phone scams reported in each of the past three years (a) how many were perpetrated against Singapore-based victims by persons situated overseas; (b) what is the financial loss suffered by these victims; © how many of these cases were prosecuted, either in Singapore or overseas; and (d) given the difficulties associated with investigating such crime, what is the Police’s strategy to protect Singapore residents from online or phone scams originating from overseas.

Mr K Shanmugam: The vast majority of online and phone scams were perpetrated by scammers based outside Singapore. In the past three years, out of about 31,500 scam cases reported, involving $591 million of losses, 90% were believed to have been committed by overseas scammers.

Such cases are difficult to prosecute. These scammers are typically syndicated and run sophisticated transnational operations that are not easy to detect or dismantle.

The only case where overseas-based suspects were successfully extradited to Singapore for prosecution was in May 2019. Two Nigerian men were arrested and sent to Singapore for prosecution, for cheating Singapore-based victims in Internet Love Scams perpetrated from Malaysia. The two accused persons have been charged in court, and court proceedings are ongoing. We do not track prosecutions in other jurisdictions of individuals who are believed to have committed scams against Singaporeans.

The Police adopt a multi-pronged approach to protect Singaporeans from scams.

The Police have stepped up collaboration with foreign law enforcement agencies, to share information that may lead to the arrest of scammers based abroad. Such cooperation has helped to disrupt scammers’ operations in Singapore.

To facilitate the cooperation, the Police set up the Transnational Commercial Crime Task Force (TCTF) in October 2017. Most recently, TCTF participated in a multi-lateral global operation against syndicates behind China Officials Impersonation Scams, coordinated by Interpol. Code-named Operation “First Light”, the operation lasted a year and concluded in November 2020. In all, SPF arrested 56 locally-based money mules and runners working for international scam syndicates, and seized over $2.16 million.

Second, the Police have set up specialised units to enhance their anti-scam capabilities. In June 2019, the Police set up the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC), which acts as the nerve centre for investigations into scam-related crimes. The ASC’s focus is to mitigate victims’ losses, through swift interdiction of the proceeds of the crime. Since its inception, the ASC has frozen more than 16,000 bank accounts and recovered more than $120 million.

Third, we work closely with public and private sector stakeholders. The Police regularly engage banks, remittance agencies and convenience stores to train their frontline staff to spot possible scam victims. In 2021, so far, the Police have commended 108 members of the community for preventing 91 instances of scams involving about $5 million.

The Police also work with other public sector agencies through the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams, to coordinate a whole-of-government effort. One such initiative is ScamShield, an iOS mobile application developed by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and GovTech. Apart from blocking SMS messages and calls from known scam numbers, ScamShield also has a function for users to report suspected scam calls and messages to the Police. ScamShield has been downloaded more than 185,000 times since its launch in November 2020. About 800,000 SMSes have been reported and more than 8,000 unique phone numbers believed to be used in scams have been blocked. The ScamShield team is presently working on developing an Android version of the application. In addition, IMDA has implemented the ‘+’ prefix for all international calls since April 2020 to help consumers recognise calls that originate from overseas. This helps alert consumers who are not expecting any overseas calls to exercise care when answering such calls or to ignore them. This is particularly useful when we get calls from unidentified telephone numbers which start as ‘+65’. Chances are that this is an overseas call spoofing as a local number.

Fourth, public education. The Police and the NCPC have disseminated advisories through various media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. In August 2020, an anti-scam public education campaign, ‘Spot the Signs. Stop the Crimes.’, was launched. This campaign focused on sharing real-life scam examples to educate the public on how to spot the tell-tale signs. The Police also work with grassroots organisations to spread awareness on scams to residents via community events and Community Safety & Security Programmes.

More recently, between May and June 2021, the seven major retail banks in Singapore partnered the NCPC to introduce an online scam quiz on their various customer touchpoints across their internet and mobile banking platforms.

Ultimately, the best defence against scams is a discerning public. We urge members of public to stay vigilant and report possible scams promptly to the Police.

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Murali Pillai

Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.

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