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Scams account for over half of crime reports in first half of 2022, with victims losing S$228m

SINGAPORE — Scams continued to drive an increase in overall crime in the first half of the year, with S$227.8 million lost to the top 10 scam types, which is an increase of about 60 per cent in value from the same period last year.

There were 3,573 reported cases of job scams in the first half of 2022, more than seven times the 481 reported in the same period of 2021.
There were 3,573 reported cases of job scams in the first half of 2022, more than seven times the 481 reported in the same period of 2021.
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  • More than half of the 25,593 cases reported from January to June 2022 involved scams, the police said
  • Some S$227.8 million were lost to the top 10 scam types, sharply higher than the S$142.5 million in the same period of 2021
  • The most prevalent types were job scams, followed by phishing, e-commerce and investment scams
  • Voyeurism, housebreaking and robbery cases fell during this period, while cases of molestation rose slightly

SINGAPORE — Scams continued to drive an increase in overall crime in the first half of the year, with S$227.8 million lost to the top 10 scam types, which is an increase of about 60 per cent in value from the same period last year.

The biggest jump in scams involved job scams, where the victims were enticed by fake offers of lucrative employment, often supposedly to be done from home. These scams soared seven-fold in the first half of this year.

In all, 25,593 crime cases were reported from January to June this year, up from 18,725 cases in the first half of last year, police crime data released on Monday (Aug 29) showed.

More than half of the crimes reported during the first half of this year involved scams, and scams made up about 56 per cent of all crimes reported. In the same period last year, that figure was about 41 per cent.

“Scammers have been constantly evolving their tactics, facilitated by the increase in online activities,” the police said in a statement. 

“Job scams, phishing scams, e-commerce scams and investment scams remain of particular concern.”

The police’s mid-year crime statistics also showed that there were 9,825 reported cases of physical crimes in the first half this year, up slightly from 9,748 in the same period last year.

The number of physical crimes, which comprises all crimes excluding scams and cyber crimes, was still lower than the pre-Covid-19 figure of 13,015 reported in the first half of 2019, the police noted.

Voyeurism cases fell to 216 cases in the first half of this year, down from 236 in the same period last year, which the police partly attributed to public education efforts on crime awareness.

Still, cases of molestation rose to 773, up from 739 last year.

Housebreaking and related crimes fell to 77 cases, from 88 in the same period last year. Robbery cases fell to seven cases from 16 last year. 

This was the lowest number of cases of housebreaking and robbery in the past 10 years, the police said.

SCAMS CONTINUE TO DRIVE HIGHER CRIME

The number of scam cases reported rose to 14,349 in the first half of this year, up from 7,746 in the same period last year.

The S$227.8 million that was cheated from victims was sharply higher than the S$142.5 million in the same period last year.

Four types of scams — namely jobs, phishing, e-commerce and investment scams — made up 74.5 per cent of the top 10 most prevalent scam types reported in the first half of 2022.

Here is a breakdown of the most prevalent scams along with other types of crimes that the police highlighted in their report.

JOB SCAMS

  • Job scams were the most prevalent form of scams in the first half of this year
  • There were 3,573 reported cases, more than seven times the 481 reported in the same period last year
  • In the first half of this year, S$58.5 million were lost to job scams, up from S$6.6 million in the same period last year
  • In most of these cases, victims came across online advertisements or received unsolicited messages from unknown numbers offering part-time jobs with high salaries that can be performed from home
  • A common variant involved victims being instructed to make advance purchases on an e-commerce platform to boost a merchant’s sales figures, with the promise of being refunded and paid a commission
  • Other variants involved victims being told to complete tasks on a website for commission or being asked to buy expensive memberships before they can take on unrealistically lucrative tasks

PHISHING SCAMS

  • Phishing scams were second on the list, with 2,301 cases reported in the first half of the year, up from 1,102 in the same period last year
  • In the first half of this year, S$7.8 million were lost through phishing scams, up from S$6.7 million in the same period last year
  • A form of this scam involved culprits impersonating bank or government officials in calls to victims. The culprits pretended to assist them with issues concerning their bank cards or accounts and convinced them to hand over their bank card or account details and one-time passwords. Some victims were also sent unsolicited text messages with a link to a fake bank website where they were asked to log in with their internet banking details
  • Culprits have also impersonated banks, government agencies, trade unions or companies and tricked victims into clicking phishing links that led them to fake websites where they were asked to key in their credit or debit card details and one-time passwords

E-COMMERCE SCAMS

  • The third most prevalent were e-commerce scams, with 2,267 cases reported in the first half of the year, up from 1,057 in the same period last year
  • In the first half of this year, S$8.3 million was cheated in this way, up from S$2.4 million in the same period last year
  • In most of these cases, scammers posted products for sale at low prices and did not deliver the products after victims paid for them
  • The most common platforms used by scammers included Carousell, Facebook and messaging applications WhatsApp or Telegram
  • The most common items involved in the transactions were house or room rentals and electronics. Other items included collectibles, trading cards and computer graphics cards
  • The rise in e-commerce scams in the first half of this year was largely due to rental scams involving fake property listings, which made up 29.6 per cent of all e-commerce scams during this period, the police said. They advised the public not to make payment before viewing the property and to verify the listing by checking the contact number against the Council for Estate Agencies’ website

INVESTMENT SCAMS

  • Fourth on the list of most prevalent scams were investment scams, with 1,683 cases reported in the first half of this year, up from 1,021 in the same period last year
  • In the first half of this year, S$108.8 million were cheated from victims, up from S$70.8 million in the same period last year.
  • In most of these cases, scammers claimed to be financial professionals and lured victims on online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Telegram
  • The culprits introduced victims to investment websites or mobile apps where victims were enticed to “invest” by transferring money to a bank account. The victims were asked to pay administrative fees, security fees or taxes in order to reap profits. In many instances, the victims earned a profit at the beginning. But once they began transferring more money, the scammers would stop being in contact and the victims would be unable to cash out their earnings

OUTRAGE OF MODESTY

  • Outrage of modesty, or molestation, cases rose to 773 in the first half of this year, up from 739 cases in the same period last year
  • Of the cases in the first half of this year, 489 involved culprits known to the victim while 284 involved strangers
  • Molestation cases that were committed within the public transport systems fell to 80, down from 87 in the same period last year. Most of these cases involved culprits unknown to the victims
  • The police urged victims of molestation to make a police report as soon as possible. “Reporting such crimes early is crucial in helping the police identify and arrest the perpetrators,” the police said. “Providing information on the suspect’s appearance, attire, height or any other distinctive physical features would be helpful in police’s investigations.”

VOYEURISM

  • Voyeurism cases fell to 216 in the first half of this year, down from 236 in the same period last year
  • Despite the decline, voyeurism cases by culprits unknown to the victims increased slightly by five cases in the first half of this year to 143 cases
  • Locations where culprits were prone to commit voyeurism were:
    • Public transport — 34 cases, down from 41 last year
    • Residential premises — 28 cases, up from 21 last year
    • Shopping complexes — 26 cases, up from 21 last year

CYBER EXTORTION

  • Cyber extortion cases, which involve culprits blackmailing victims with video or images of them performing compromising or indecent acts in front of a camera, remain a concern, the police said
  • In the first half of this year, there were 203 cyber extortion cases, up from 138 in the same period last year
  • More than S$754,000 were lost in cyber extortion cases in the first half of this year
  • The most common platform used by cyber extortionists was Instagram, Facebook and Tinder
  • In some of these cases, victims were asked to visit a link or to download an app that may result in granting the criminals access to the victim’s contact details, which the criminals used to extort the victims

‘I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO THINK’

One victim lost S$12 million to an investment scam, the largest sum cheated in a single scam in the statistics covering the first half of this year.

The police told TODAY that the victim, whom they did not name, was added into a WhatsApp chat group in mid-2021 so that she may get messages about buying stocks.

She responded to one of the messages and was redirected to a scammer who instructed her on WhatApp to buy S$12 million worth of shares.

A few months after buying the stocks, she realised that the stocks were suspended and was unable to retrieve her money, the police said. The reason for the stock’s suspension was not immediately clear.

In a separate case, John (not his real name) told reporters of how he was fooled into believing that he was being investigated for money laundering and — after submitting bank and identification details for “investigations” — led to his bank account being drained.

John is a mid-level skilled worker in his 50s holding a job in the banking industry. He holds a work pass and has lived in Singapore for 16 years.

In June this year, he got a call from a scammer pretending to be an official from the State Courts, telling him to attend a court hearing regarding financial crimes committed by a company set up in his name.

The call was later transferred to another scammer claiming to be a police officer, who made John send over his internet banking credentials and credit card numbers. 

The scammer told him not to speak to anybody while the investigation was happening and threatened him with jail if he did not cooperate.

John said that he complied because he felt indignant for being wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit and wanted his name cleared as soon as possible.

“Within a couple of minutes of our conversation, the ‘police officer’ sent me a PDF file of this court document. It was very convincing and an elaborate set-up,” John said.

“I didn’t have time to think. It just went from one step to the next.”

Later, more than S$90,000 was transferred out of John’s bank account and the scammer told John that if the bank asks, he should tell the bank that he was making an investment into a business venture.

The scammers then tried to make more transfers but a bank staff member from DBS bank detected the fraudulent transaction and alerted the police’s Anti-Scam Centre.

The Anti-Scam Centre contacted John about the scam and through a prolonged conversation, managed to convince John after sending him a news article describing the playbook of such scams.

The police said that the centre eventually managed to trace the transactions and fully recovered the more than S$1.1 million that was at risk of being fraudulently transferred out of John’s bank account.

“I just felt really stupid,” John said. “'Stupid' is probably the right word.”

John said that if he had paid more attention to the bank and police advisories about scams, he would have seen that they were a “carbon copy” of the playbook used by the scammers against him.

“What I’ve learnt is that, apart from the obvious… is that if I get a call from a number beginning with ‘+65’, I’ll simply ignore it.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LORAINE LEE

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