Victims lose $82 million to Top 10 scams in first half of 2020
Police statistics show scams surged in first half of 2020 as people stayed home during the pandemic and transacted more online
One victim lost $506,000 after he was told his bank accounts had been hacked, and he shared his one-time passwords with scammers posing as staff from local banks.
Another gave personal details and $367,000 to an unknown person after she responded to a link on a purported monetary grant sent to her by a friend via Facebook messenger.
Such scams shot through the roof in the first half of the year as more people stayed home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and made more online transactions, the police said yesterday.
According to mid-year crime statistics, 7,970 scams were reported between January and June this year, more than double the 3,470 cases reported during the same period in 2019 and outstripping the 6,189 cases reported in the whole of 2018.
Banking-related phishing scams surged more than twenty-fold, from 34 in the first half of last year to 898 cases in the same period this year, while social media impersonation scams went up more than tenfold from 83 to 1,175 cases.
E-commerce scams rose 73.8 per cent and continued to be the most commonly reported.
Along with loan scams, these four types of scams were of particular concern, the police said.
The rise in scams contributed primarily to the 11.6 per cent increase in overall crime in the first half of this year.
A total of 18,121 crimes were reported, up from 16,240 during the same period last year.
Without scams, overall crime would have dropped 20.5 per cent to 10,151 cases from 12,770 cases a year ago.
Across the top 10 types of scams reported between January and June, victims lost $82 million compared with $41.6 million in the same period in 2019.
The police said scammers have been taking advantage of the pandemic to find new victims, tapping the public's fear and sense of uncertainty.
Of the 2,089 cases of e-commerce scams reported in the first half of the year, 294 cases involved Covid-19-related items such as face masks, hand sanitisers and thermometers.
Associate Professor Jiow Hee Jhee, programme director of the Singapore Institute of Technology's digital communications and integrated media programme, said the continued rise in scam cases was not surprising but he was concerned by how much the numbers had gone up.
"It is definitely a serious concern because we are moving into a digitalised society," he said.
"This environment works quite well for the scammers. It is easier for them to fish for victims because they can cast their nets very wide."
Police principal psychologist Carolyn Misir said the ruses scammers use evolve and the pandemic provided greater access to potential victims as more worked, shopped and sought entertainment online.
However, some of the underlying principles still hold true, even as scammers use increasingly sophisticated tactics.
She said: "Scammers will induce you to process information through a more emotive route...
"Really, the best way is to make yourself educated so you know what are the alarm bells."
While scam victims are likely to come from a wide spectrum of age groups, Prof Jiow was especially worried about the elderly, who might not be savvy enough to understand the nuances of these ever-evolving scams.
Public education efforts have been stepped up, but the messages need time to sink in, he said, so the fact that the authorities are also working closely with other stakeholders, such as banks and telcos, and using data analytics is a good step forward.