Police warn of scammers preying on coronavirus fears
CAD chief says public should be on guard; meanwhile, scams rose 53% last year
Scammers have begun using the coronavirus outbreak in their schemes, preying on the emotions of the public.
Mr David Chew, director of the Commercial Affairs Department, said the police are already monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to take action.
At the annual crime brief yesterday, Mr Chew said the public should be on their guard.
"People take advantage of any incident, even the most tragic of incidents, to scam others of their money," he said.
He added that these scammers would incorporate the news of the virus into their plots, with the aim to gain access to bank accounts and valuables.
"We're already looking at the next possible variant, involving the sale of masks over the Internet," he told The New Paper.
The virus outbreak, which originated from Wuhan, has led to a huge demand for face masks, including in Singapore, despite public clarifications concerning their use.
Singapore Police Force psychologist Carolyn Misir said this could easily be manipulated.
"The virus evokes a range of negative emotions in people, from uncertainty to fear, anxiety and helplessness," she said.
"Situations like these could definitely be used by scammers to cultivate victims."
Mr Chew said scams are a global phenomenon that are a major concern.
"If one comes across scams involving the coronavirus, they should give the Anti-Scam Centre a call (on 1800-722-6688)," he said.
At the police press conference yesterday, it was revealed that there were 9,502 cases of scams last year, up from the 6,189 cases in 2018. This was an increase of 53.5 per cent.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Florence Chua said scams were the key contributor to the total number of reported crimes last year, which increased by 6.3 per cent to 35,209 cases, from the 33,126 cases in 2018. This is a nine-year high.
If scams are excluded, the total number of reported crimes would have decreased by 4.6 per cent to 25,707, from the 26,937 in 2018.
"Singapore's streets and homes have become safer, but scams have increased significantly," she said.
Scammers were able to cheat $168.1 million last year, up from the $144.9 million in 2018.
LOST $3.6 MILLION
In one case, an 80-year-old woman lost more than $3.6 million after falling prey to a China official impersonation scam.
E-commerce scams also surged to 2,809 cases last year, up from 2,161 cases in 2018.
This 30 per cent increase came even as online marketplace Carousell reported a 25 per cent decline in share of the overall percentage of Singapore's e-commerce scams.
While 70 per cent of e-commerce scams in 2018 happened on Carousell, the number fell to just 44 per cent last year, police statistics showed.
This was attributed to intensive engagement by the authorities with Carousell and the introduction of an escrow payment service.
In other statistics, there were 665 cases of motor vehicle and related thefts, 56 cases of robbery and 34 cases of snatch theft last year. This is a 35-year low for all three categories.
Meanwhile, the total number of unlicensed moneylending-related harassment cases increased by 15 per cent to 5,301 last year from the 4,608 in 2018.
Molest cases declined by 5.6 per cent to 1,632 last year, compared with 1,728 in 2018.