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Police recover S$2 million linked to OCBC phishing scam, 121 local bank accounts frozen

SINGAPORE — As of Sunday (Feb 13), the police have frozen 121 bank accounts in Singapore and recovered about S$2 million lost in the recent OCBC phishing scam, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan revealed in Parliament on Tuesday. 

Police recover S$2 million linked to OCBC phishing scam, 121 local bank accounts frozen
From December 2021 to January 2022, 790 OCBC customers fell prey to spoofed SMS messages appearing in the same thread as genuine messages from the bank.
  • The police have frozen 121 bank accounts and recovered about S$2 million lost in the wake of the OCBC phishing scam
  • Another S$2.2 million of victims’ funds have been traced to 89 overseas bank accounts
  • Parliament heard that the police are "extremely stretched" from the rise in scams
  • The main challenge in enforcement is that the vast majority of scams are perpetrated by scammers based overseas

SINGAPORE — As of Sunday (Feb 13), the police have frozen 121 bank accounts in Singapore and recovered about S$2 million lost in the recent OCBC phishing scam, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan revealed in Parliament on Tuesday. 

Another S$2.2 million of victims’ funds have been traced to 89 overseas bank accounts, Mr Tan said as he gave a ministerial statement on Singapore's anti-scam strategy to date, in the wake of the largest phishing incident here involving spoofed SMS messages sent by phone. 

Based on preliminary investigations, at least 107 Singapore and 171 overseas IP addresses were linked to the unauthorised access of victims’ internet banking accounts, Mr Tan added.

Many of the scam websites used were hosted by web hosting companies based overseas.

From December 2021 to January 2022, 790 OCBC customers fell prey to spoofed SMS messages appearing in the same thread as genuine messages from the bank, containing links directing them to scam websites.

OCBC said on Jan 19 that it has since completed arrangements to fully reimburse all victims with "goodwill payments" totalling S$13.7 million — the combined amount that had been lost.

RISE IN SCAMS

The OCBC phishing incident came in the midst of a rise in the number of scams reported in Singapore.

In 2021, 23,931 cases of scams were reported, of which 5,020 were phishing cases.

This is more than a fourfold increase from the 5,147 scam cases reported in 2017, of which 16 were phishing cases, Mr Tan said. 

In 2017, there were no cases of phishing scams involving SMS messages impersonating banks in Singapore, but 91 cases were reported in 2018, 57 in 2019, and 149 in 2020.

This number increased significantly to 1,021 last year in view of the OCBC case. 

In response to questions posed by Members of Parliament (MP) Murali Pillai and Ang Wei Neng about the police's resources to combat scams, Mr Tan said: “The police are extremely stretched. Our officers have been trying to cope with increasing workload and expectations, without proportionate increase in manpower. We will need to review this untenable situation.”

Mr Tan added that the main challenge in enforcement is that the vast majority of scams are perpetrated by scammers based overseas, which makes it difficult to investigate and prosecute.  

“As these scammers are typically part of organised criminal syndicates, they run sophisticated transnational operations, which are not easy to detect or dismantle. The syndicates are well-resourced and adept at using technology to cover their tracks.” 

He also said that recovery is “very difficult” when monies have already been transferred out of Singapore. 

EDUCATION EFFORTS

Mr Tan revealed that young adults between 20 and 39 years old formed the largest group of victims of scams related to phishing, jobs, e-commerce, investments, loans, China official impersonation and fake gambling platforms. 

For social media impersonation scams, internet love scams and fake friend call scams, adults between 40 and 59 years old formed the largest group of victims.

To improve public education, the police and the National Crime Prevention Council have partnered with the Association of Banks in Singapore on initiatives to educate bank customers, such as having an online quiz on scam prevention and sending advisories to customers to remind them not to share their one-time passwords with others.

Banks have also trained frontline staff members to help customers spot signs of scam transactions.

Mr Tan urged Singaporeans to download the ScamShield application — which compares an incoming call against a list maintained by the police — to determine if the number has been used for illegal purposes, to filter out scam messages and block spam calls. 

He also announced that the police will be forming an Anti-Scam Command this year to consolidate expertise in scams across all police units and improve coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations.

It was previously announced that the command would be formed in 2021. TODAY has reached out to the police for comment on the delay.

In response to TODAY's query, the police said on Feb 21 that they "will provide further details on the new Anti-Scam Command in due course".

Related topics

OCBC Scam phishing Police internet bank

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