Banks muscle up as scam cases continue to climb
Data analytics, staff education and customer interaction among the tools used to fight the scourge
When a woman told a bank teller that she wanted to remit $5,000 to an individual in Jakarta to help a friend in Turkey, the bank teller felt something was amiss and informed her supervisor.
Ms Kristie Chiang, a customer service manager at OCBC Bank's Bedok branch, probed further, and she became suspicious when the 55-year-old customer said she had developed a relationship with a friend called "Andrew" after an introductory phone call in February and that the Swiss national, who was based in Turkey, needed financial help.
Ms Chiang decided to call "Andrew" using the customer's phone, and when the man had a strong Chinese accent instead of a Swiss or even Turkish one, she was almost certain the woman was about to become a victim of a love scam and alerted the police.
OCBC revealed recently that the number of scams it had foiled in the first half of this year was nearly double that in the same period last year.
From January to May, its staff thwarted 43 scams worth a total of $1.3 million.
In the same period last year, they foiled 23 scam attempts worth a total of $504,000.
UOB said it foiled 35 scam cases and recovered $1.2 million in customers' funds in the first half of this year.
Scam cases are on the rise, and Mr Richard Soh, head of integrated fraud management at UOB, told The New Paper they range from technical support and business e-mail impersonation scams to e-commerce and Internet love scams.
According to the Singapore Police Force's Annual Crime Brief 2020, there were 14,236 cases last year, including Internet love scams, impersonation scams and loan scams, with losses totalling of $201.2 million. In 2019, there were 8,397 cases, with total losses at $121.8 million.
Not only are the number of scams rising, they are also becoming more sophisticated and banks are having to constantly refine and update their safety measures.
Mr Elvin Lim, head of group investigation at DBS Bank, said it has been adopting advanced data analytics to further safeguard against scams.
He told TNP: "This allows us to detect distinct changes in user behavioural patterns; cross-reference unusual account changes and instantly screen and block flagged transfers.
"As we continue to refine our detection and intervention capabilities to prevent scams as well as recover funds lost to scammers, we have seen an increase in funds saved (prevented and recovered) in January to May this year, compared with January to May last year."
Mr Soh from UOB acknowledged that banks have to continually upgrade their technology as fraudsters find new ways to trick customers.
He said: "To help our customers protect themselves, we (also) regularly inform them of the latest scams and actions they can take to protect themselves through our social media accounts, website and digital banking services such as UOB Mighty," he said.
He added that front-line staff also play a crucial role in preventing customers from falling victim to scams.
Mr Ilia Rozhnov, head of cyber-security company Group-IB's digital risk protection department in the Asia-Pacific, explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for the spike in the number of scams.
"There is the phenomenon of Scamdemic - an influx of online scams as more around the world dived online last year, when people were forced to go digital and make payments online, and use e-services," he said.
"According to Group-IB's data, last year, scams dominated the online cyber-criminal scene, totalling over 70 per cent of all online crimes."
Ms Diana, a counselling psychologist at Annabelle Psychology who goes by only one name, believes the reduction in physical social interaction - from social media and more recently Covid-19 safety measures - has made more people vulnerable.
"For many, this may result in significant emotional needs being unmet, making them crave more social connection.
"People who were not previously keen on virtual interactions may become more open to it, and those who were already engaging in such interactions may spend even more time online. Thus, more people may become vulnerable to potential scams now," she said.
Director of the Criminal Investigation Department, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police How Kwang Hwee, said the battle against scams also involves members of the public, who can play their part by raising awareness and helping to educate their loved ones.
"While Singapore's streets and homes remain safe, online scam cases continue to increase in line with the global trend. The police will continue to enhance our public education efforts and work with our partners, the community and business stakeholders to fight crime," he said.
"We urge everyone to do their part... A discerning public is the first line of defence to protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming a victim of crime."
Ms Chiang said OCBC's risk management department often conducts training sessions for staff where they would share cases and give examples of fraud to keep everyone updated and vigilant.
Recalling the incident on June 8, which went on for two hours, Ms Chiang said she was just relieved to have helped a customer.
"We treat customers like our friends and family, and we have the knowledge and responsibility to prevent such scams.
"I wanted to stop not just the scam but help the customer to protect herself."