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Of the total 19,444 crimes reported between January and July 2021, 8,403 were scam-related cases. — iStock pic
Of the total 19,444 crimes reported between January and July 2021, 8,403 were scam-related cases. — iStock pic

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SINGAPORE, Aug 31 — The number of crimes reported in Singapore in the first half of this year rose 11.2 per cent from the same period a year ago, mainly driven by a 16 per cent rise in scams that took advantage of people’s anxieties during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Singapore Police Force said yesterday.

There was also a big jump in outrage of modesty cases, up 38.6 per cent from the same period last year, though it was just slightly higher than 2019, before the pandemic.

At the same time, the number of robbery, housebreaking and snatch theft cases dropped sharply by 40.5 per cent to 75 cases in the first six months of this year, the lowest in a decade. 

In all, 19,444 crimes were reported for the first half of the year, up from 17,492 in the same period last year.

The police said that the increase this year was partly due to the low base in the same period last year, which included the circuit breaker period from April 7 to June 1 when people’s movements and non-essential activities were halted, so incidents of most types of crimes fell.

Scams continue to rise

Of the total 19,444 crimes reported between January and July this year, 8,403 were scam-related cases, up from 7,247 in the same period last year.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Aileen Yap, the assistant director of the police’s anti-scam division, said last Friday at a press briefing ahead of the release of the crime statistics that since the Anti-Scam Centre was formed in June 2019, it has handled reports involving losses totalling more than S$377 million.

The Anti-Scam Centre, working with banks, has frozen more than 17,000 bank accounts and recovered about S$127 million, or about 34 per cent of the total amount lost to scams, she said.

During the press briefing, the police said that scammers tended to capitalise on the sentiment of the day.

For instance, Madam Carolyn Misir, the principal psychologist of the Police Psychological Services Department, noted that in the early days of the pandemic, many consumers rushed to buy face masks and hand sanitisers, which correspondingly led to many e-commerce scams that sought to cash in on this trend. 

Then, as the economic toll of the pandemic began to manifest itself in more retrenchments and business failures, what started proliferating were loan, investment and job scams, she added.

The following is a breakdown of some of the scams and other crimes that the police highlighted in its report.

Loan scams

  • Loan scams were the top scam type for the first half of this year
  • There were 1,243 cases reported, a surge of 55.4 per cent, compared with 800 from the same period last year
  • The total sum cheated was S$10.6 million, close to double the S$5.6 million lost to such scams last year 
  • Common platforms used by loan scammers are websites, phone text messages, messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook advertisements

In most of these cases, the police said that the victims came across loan offers or advertisements from supposed licensed moneylenders or banks.

The victims would be asked to pay a small percentage of the loan amount as an “administrative fee” and the scammers would become unreachable after that.

Investment scams

  • Investment scams tripled to 1,054 cases in the first half of this year, compared with 351 last year 
  • The total amount cheated was S$66.2 million, more than triple the S$21.6 million last year
  • Common platforms used by the scammers were Facebook and dating applications such as Tinder

The majority of the investment scams involved scammers masquerading as financial professionals.

Once lured, the victims were introduced to investment websites or mobile applications where they would be “enticed” to invest and asked to transfer money to unknown bank accounts, the police said.

Victims would also be asked to pay for various fees and, in some instances, “earn a profit” from their so-called investments in the initial stages to make them believe that it was legitimate. 

This sometimes led the victims to invest larger sums of money, only to realise later that they could not withdraw their investments, and the scammers would then become unreachable.

Job scams 

  • There were 658 job scam cases in the first half of this year — more than 16 times last year’s 40 cases
  • The total amount cheated was S$6.5 million, a large jump from last year’s S$60,000
  • Common platforms used by the scammers to advertise the scam jobs are social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and messaging services such as Telegram, WhatsApp and phone text messages 

The police said that oftentimes, the victims came across online advertisements or unsolicited text messages from unknown numbers offering a part-time job with a daily salary of between S$300 and S$500.

Victims who responded to the fake ads would then receive a brief of what the “job” entails, such as helping e-commerce platform merchants improve their sales by making advance purchases.

The victims would be given reassurance that they would be refunded for these purchases and even be paid a commission. To give the scam an appearance of legitimacy, the victims would be refunded in the initial stages for low-cost items, which would eventually lead them to buy more expensive items. 

Eventually, the victims would stop receiving refunds from the scammers, who would break contact with them. 

Outrage of modesty

  • Outrage of modesty cases jumped to 786 cases in the first half of this year, compared with 567 cases last year
  • The police noted there was a lower number of such cases reported last year, partly due to the circuit breaker
  • In the first half of 2019, there were 756 such cases
  • Of the 786 cases, 459 cases involved culprits known to the victim, while the remaining cases were committed by strangers
  • The number of outrage of modesty cases committed by strangers on public transport rose to 96 in the first half of this year, up from 70 last year 

Voyeurism

  • There were 242 reported cases of voyeurism in the first half of this year, up from 146 last year
  • The police noted that voyeurism cases in the first half of last year dropped, partly due to the circuit breaker
  • The top three locations where voyeurism occurred in the first half of this year were:
  • Residential premises — 84 cases, up from 35 last year
  • Public transport — 46 cases, up from last year’s 26
  • Shopping complexes — 23 cases, a marginal increase from 22 last year

Cyber extortion

  • Cyber-extortion cases jumped to 141 cases in the first half of this year from 81 last year
  • The total amount lost by victims of cyber extortion was more than S$410,000
  • The most common platform used by cyber extortionists were Facebook, Instagram and dating app Grindr
  • In these extortion cases, criminals would befriend victims online, then typically coax them to perform compromising or indecent acts in front of a camera, the police said
  • The criminals would then use the footage or images to extort the victim for money or online credits 

Impersonation of government officials 

Last Tuesday, the police highlighted several scams that had been thwarted by the efforts of OCBC bank.

In one case that happened on June 1 this year, an OCBC customer in her 50s had asked to transfer money amounting to S$34,000 to another Singapore bank, claiming that her friend had been detained by Malaysian customs because of a parcel containing cash that was meant to be a gift for her.

OCBC told TODAY that its staff member found her transfer request suspicious, and later established that the woman had received text messages from scammers. 

The employee asked to see the customer’s phone messages and noted that the messages were from somebody using a Malaysian phone number and claiming to be from the Malaysian immigration authorities. 

The scammers had demanded money in return for the release of her “friend” from customs in Malaysia.

The staff member tried to advise the customer that government authorities would not contact individuals personally and that if the situation were legitimate, there would have been official communications from the authorities regarding her so-called friend.

Moreover, official Malaysian government channels would not require individuals to send money to a Singapore account, they told her. 

The customer was initially not convinced, and it took the OCBC teller some time to convince her that it was a scam before she finally agreed not to transfer any money. — TODAY

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