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Singapore struggles with scams as cybercrime cases keep climbing


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Scams and cybercrime cases in Singapore continue their upward trajectory, increasing by 49.6% last year, even as the country rolls out several industry-wide measures to stem such incidents. 

The number of scam and cybercrime cases hit 50,376 in 2023, up from 33,669 cases the previous year, with scams accounting for 92.4% of overall cases. Victims lost a total of SG$651.8 million (USD$483.62 million), marking the first dip in the past five years, and from SG$660.7 million in 2022, according to the latest stats from the Singapore Police Force (SPF). 

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Victims reported 1,899 malware-enabled scam cases last year, losing more than SG$34.1 million, with the average loss at SG$17,960 per victim. 

This is above the average amount lost per case across all scams, which dropped 32.8% to SG$13,999 in 2023. Some 55.6% of scam cases involved losses of SG$2,000 or less. 

SPF attributed the drop partly to the collective efforts of various government agencies, including the Cyber Security Agency and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and private sector organizations in rolling out anti-scam measures and raising public awareness. 

“However, the amount lost to scams involving the use of social engineering and deception to induce victims to transfer monies to scammers, continues to be high,” said SPF. In particular, the law enforcement unit expressed concern about a sharp increase in scams perpetuated through social media and messaging platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

Scammers typically reach out to victims through such platforms, phone calls, and online shopping sites. Meta’s three platforms — Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram — accounted for the bulk of such media, with most scammers leveraging the trio to interact with potential victims. 

Facebook alone was used by 71.7% of scammers, followed by Instagram at 18.5% and TikTok at 4.1%.

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Among scam cases involving Facebook as the point of contact, 41.5% were e-commerce scams, 15.8% were malware-enabled scams, and 12% were job scams.

Job and e-commerce scams were among the leading types of scams used in 2023, with fake friend call scams as well as phishing and investment scams rounding up the top five. These accounted for 78.4% of all scam types reported last year, where government official impersonation scams clocked the highest average losses of SG$103,600 per case, followed by investment scams at SG$50,700 per case. 

The two scam types typically involved deception and social engineering conducted over a period of time and used a variety of complex scam methods, SPF said. 

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Phishing scams dropped 16.3% to 5,938 cases last year, with victims losing more than SG$14.2 million, compared to SG$16.5 million in 2022. The average lost per case, though, grew 2.4% to SG$2,394 in 2023. 

These scam cases involved the use of email, calls, and advertisements by scammers who posed as government officials, financial institutions, or businesses, swindling victims into revealing sensitive information including passwords and banking credentials after clicking malicious links or via phone calls. Scammers then would use the personal data to carry out unauthorized transactions with the victims’ bank accounts or credit cards.  

Youths and adults aged below 50 accounted for 73% of overall scam victims, with those aged between 30 and 49 making up the majority at 43.1%. Of this group, 24.6% were victims of e-commerce scams, while 22.3% were involved in job scams and 14.3% in phishing scams. 

In fact, victims aged 30 to 49 accounted for 49.3% of e-commerce scam cases, with Facebook, Carousell, Telegram among the most common platforms used to run such scams.

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SPF said it is working with more than 100 institutions, including fintech companies and cryptocurrency platforms, via its Anti-Scam Command office to freeze accounts and recover funds to reduce losses. More than 19,600 bank accounts were frozen last year based on investigations by the Anti-Scam Command Centre, recovering more than SG$100 million. 

The center also works with local telcos and e-commerce platforms on anti-scam measures, terminating more than 9,200 mobile lines and 29,200 WhatsApp lines last year that were suspected of being used in scams. 

In addition, tech companies were roped in to flag and block malicious websites. SPF last July enrolled in Google’s Cloud Priority Flagger Program, which aims to speed up the identification and flagging of potential phishing websites and malware hosted on the service.

SPF also has deployed analytic tools to identify and block scam websites and worked with local ISPs to block more than 25,000 scam websites last year. 

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A new anti-scam measure was introduced last month to enable mobile subscribers in Singapore to instruct their carrier to block all incoming calls from international numbers. More than 300 million scam calls made from international numbers were blocked by the telcos between January and September last year, according to industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). 

Another initiative, introduced in January last year, tags SMS messages from businesses that are not registered on the Singapore SMS Sender ID Registry as “Likely-SCAM”, to warn mobile users of potential scammers. This measure helped cut the number of SMS scam cases by 70% in three months after it was rolled out, IMDA said.

It added that the call-blocking feature will be extended to include SMS messages from international numbers by mid-2024. 

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