The Singapore Police Force’s Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) marks the first year of operationalisation since its set up on 18 June 2019. The ASC is the “nerve centre” for investigating into scam-related crimes and its focus is to disrupt scammers’ operations and help mitigate victims’ losses. Through its multi-pronged approach of Enforcement, Engagement, Engineering and Education, more than 20 external stakeholders comprising banks, Fintech companies, telecommunication companies (telcos) and online marketplaces have joined the ASC in the fight against scams.
In the first year of operation, the ASC received more than 8,600 reports and had successfully frozen more than 6,100 bank accounts, thereby intercepting the flow of victims’ monies to the scammers and disrupting their operations. The ASC has made a recovery of more than $21.2 million, which equates to about 40.8% of the total amount scammed in the reports that the ASC received.
On 18 June 2019, the ASC started an initiative with the three major local banks, namely DBS, OCBC and UOB to promptly freeze bank accounts, retrieve bank account holders’ particulars and bank statements when alerted by the police upon detection of unusual banking activities. Between November 2019 and February 2020, the ASC extended the initiative further and collaborated with nine other banks, namely ANZ, CIMB, HSBC, Maybank, Citibank, BOC, SCB, and RHB. Fintech companies, remittance agencies, telcos and online marketplaces are amongst ASC’s close working partners. With strong partnerships with the stakeholders, funds tracing which previously took up to two months, can now be processed almost immediately. In order to further enhance the effectiveness of the work processes, a DBS staff has been included in the ASC set-up since October 2019 to provide seamless real-time intervention.
The ASC has also streamlined work processes with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) and Banking Computer Singapore for PayNow screenings, reducing the turnaround time from the initial two weeks to a few hours. With this, the ASC is able to screen the mobile number or Unique Entity Number (UEN) and obtain the linked bank account numbers within the same day. The ASC has stepped up to centralise this function for all the investigative units within the Singapore Police Force, conducting a total of almost 700 PayNow screenings in the first half of 2020.
Apart from freezing of accounts, the ASC is actively involved in real time interception and recovery efforts for cases where monies were transferred on the same day. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore, e-commerce scams relating to the sales of face masks and hand sanitisers surged. As most of these scams were conducted via Carousell, ASC engaged the platform to consider making it mandatory for Carousell Protection (escrow services) to be used for all COVID-19 related products, which Carousell agreed. This collaboration delivered tangible results in the fight against scammers who were taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation.
The ASC also works with the local telcos, namely Singtel, Starhub and M1, in the termination of mobile lines used for scams. The ASC has conducted screening and sense-making of local mobile numbers used in the commission of scams. More than 1,500 local mobile lines were terminated from 1 January to 30 June 2020.
The ASC also leverages new technologies to enhance work processes. For example, the ASC deploys Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate the processing of voluminous paper works that ASC had to put up to the banks. With RPA, ASC is able to increase throughput for the highly repetitive and manual tasks and free up the officers for more important tasks.
The ASC also uses technologies to track and consolidate island wide scam trends to visualise and sense-make voluminous data that the ASC handles each day. The sense-making and analysis work facilitated the ASC’s E-Commerce Fraud Enforcement and Coordination Team (E-FECT) and the seven land divisions in conducting extensive island wide enforcement operations, leading to the arrest of more than 28 persons who were involved in COVID-19-related e-commerce scams involving more than $484,000.
Apart from enforcement, the ASC seeks to raise awareness of scams through public education. This includes training bank officers and community groups such as the Safety and Security Watch Group (SSWG) to spot signs of scams, and take preventive actions.
The ASC and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) work closely together to combat scams. NCPC has co-located one phone operator with the ASC to allow members of the public to enquire about scams and issue timely anti-scam advisories. It has also worked with ASC to issue many scam prevention initiatives and hold many anti-scam roadshows to warn the public about scams.
It is often difficult to recover the monies that have already been paid or transferred to the scammers. The police would like to remind the public never to give your bank details and one-time banking password to anyone, including persons purporting to represent the police or other law enforcement agencies. The ASC will continue to innovate and evolve to fight scams effectively in the constantly changing world of scams.
SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE
30 July 2020 @ 3:20 PM