By: Hadi Hafidz (Photo: Mustafa Naim)
In the first half of 2019, the total number of cases reported for the top four types of scams (e-commerce scams, loan scams, credit-for-sex scams and internet love scams) increased by almost 60 per cent, compared to the same period in 2018. To augment its scam-fighting efforts, the Singapore Police Force set up the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) on 18 June 2019, a dedicated unit within the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) to tackle scam-related crimes. Read on as Police Life brings you greater insights into the ASC’s operations.
Introduced as the nerve centre for scam-related reports, the ASC, which was officially launched on 4 October 2019, works closely with local banks, telecommunications companies and online marketplaces to disrupt scammers’ operations and mitigate victims’ monetary losses.
With its streamlined investigation and prosecution processes, the Police are now able to intervene at a much faster pace. By collaborating with the three major local banks – United Overseas Bank (UOB), Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) and Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) – suspicious bank accounts that are linked to scams can be frozen within a few days as compared to the previous two weeks to two months’ waiting period prior to the setting up of the ASC. In addition to the collaboration with banks to disrupt the scammers’ operations, telecommunications companies will also be engaged to swiftly terminate phone lines used by scammers, further crippling their operations.
In the first three months of the ASC’s operation, 1,286 bank accounts that were linked to scams were frozen, with about S$1.25 million of S$3.84 million scammed recovered from such cases. In one particular success story, an interbank collaboration proved to be instrumental in circumventing a scam.
On 18 September 2019, a 78-year-old elderly Chinese woman went to an OCBC branch and requested to transfer S$50,000 to an account in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after receiving a text message from an unknown individual who claimed to be her husband’s business associate. The elderly’s husband, at that time, was overseas. Sensing that something was amiss, the OCBC staff advised the elderly woman that it could be a scam.
Insistent that she was not scammed, the elderly woman left while mentioning that she would be proceeding to UOB to transfer the money instead. OCBC immediately alerted UOB about the matter. When the elderly woman eventually arrived at an UOB branch to process the transfer of S$40,000 instead of the initial S$50,000 that was demanded of her this time around to an unknown Malay account holder, one of the bank staff contacted the ASC for advice.
Although no report was lodged yet, the ASC acted on the matter and sought assistance from Deputy Superintendent of Police Wong Keng Hoe, Commanding Officer of Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre, who promptly deployed his officers to engage the elderly at her residence on the proliferation of scams. She was finally convinced and the officers then guided her to lodge a police report. Owing to the collaborative efforts between the banks and the ASC, they were able to freeze the bank account of the suspicious bank account holder, and prevented the elderly from falling prey to the scam.
Assistant Director of the Specialised Commercial Crime Division, Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Aileen Yap expressed her appreciation for the collaborative efforts. “The Police would like to thank DBS, OCBC and UOB for their partnership and commitment to swiftly freeze scam-related bank accounts to mitigate victims’ losses; and provide bank account holders’ particulars and statements promptly to allow the Police to carry out investigations against these money mules and suspected scammers,” said DAC Yap.
To further its anti-scam outreach efforts, the ASC continue to engage and work closely with online marketplaces to introduce anti-scam measures. E-commerce scams in particular have seen a significant increase in the number of victims falling prey to bogus transactions. Carousell was reported to be the top online marketplace used in e-commerce scams, with 765 cases reported in the first half of 2019.
To mitigate the spike in such scam cases, Carousell worked closely with the Police and introduced their own anti-scam measures such as publishing scam advisories on their platform and introducing CarouPay, which is a form of escrow payment that will only release the money to the seller when the buyer acknowledges through the platform, that the item has been received in good order.
Additionally, Carousell also introduced a ‘My Info’ page developed by the Government Technology Agency which allows Carousell users to verify the identity of another account user, thus preventing scammers from creating multiple fake accounts.
With the strong support and commitment from these strategic partners, the ASC will continue to strategise and leverage technology to implement more measures and work towards realising the CAD’s vision of making Singapore the safest and most trusted place for business and finance.