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More victims scammed in first half of 2023 but amount lost dips to $334m

SINGAPORE – While the number of scam victims increased in the first half of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022, the amount lost fell, with signs emerging that scammers could be changing tactics.

There were 22,339 scam cases reported from January to June 2023, a 64.5 per cent increase from the 13,576 cases during the same period last year.

However, the total amount victims lost in the first half of this year dipped slightly to $334.5 million, from $342.1 million during the same period last year.

Scam victims in Singapore lost a total of $660.7 million in 2022, up from $632 million in 2021.

Releasing the mid-year scam statistics for 2023 on Wednesday, the police said more than half, or 55 per cent, of victims lost up to $2,000.

Seven of the top 10 most common scams saw a drop in the average amount lost per victim.

The average amount lost to job scams from January to June stood at $13,851, down from $17,532 in the same period last year.

The average amount lost to e-commerce scams also fell to $1,635, from $3,773 during the same period last year.

National University of Singapore business professor Lawrence Loh said scammers could have changed tactics by targeting more people, but for smaller amounts each time.

He said scammers are now casting a wide net and trying to hook as many victims as they can, to cheat them of smaller amounts, rather than spending a lot of time and effort on getting one victim to give up his life savings.

He said: “This makes it easier for the scammers. They may choose to put up a scam advertisement online and just wait for the fish to bite. It is less labour-intensive than trying to gain the trust of a victim, which would take time.”

Because of this, Prof Loh noted that victims may fall prey to scams even when buying small-ticket items like mooncakes or beer online.

The Straits Times has reported such cases recently, and Prof Loh said: “The figures show that scammers may now be choosing to cheat $100 each from 1,000 victims, instead of $100,000 from just one victim. So the amount cheated each time may be getting smaller, but the hit rates are getting higher.”

The police said that among the top 10 scam types, government officials impersonation scams, which was the ninth most common scam in the first half of 2023, had the highest average loss at about $116,000 per victim.

Investment scams had the second highest average loss, with victims losing around $60,000 each time.

Said the police: “These two scam types involve deception over a period of time, using complex social engineering and deception methods.”

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E-commerce scams, which include the sale of concert tickets, and phishing scams had lower average losses, at around $1,600 and $2,400, respectively.

The police said job scams, e-commerce scams, fake friend call scams, phishing scams and investment scams were the top five scams of concern in the first half of 2023, making up 83.8 per cent of all reported cases.

The most common scam type was job scams, which saw 5,737 cases reported and $79.4 million cheated from victims.

The police said job scams typically involve victims being offered work that can be performed from home, including liking social media posts, reviewing restaurants and completing surveys.

Victims are initially asked to transfer funds to bank accounts provided by scammers and get a small commission for doing so. When they transfer larger sums into the accounts in hopes of getting higher payouts, they fail to get the cash and the scammers become uncontactable.

WhatsApp and Telegram were the most common platforms used by scammers to contact victims in job scams.

The second-highest number of reported cases among all scam types was e-commerce scams, with 4,516 cases reported and $7.3 million cheated.

Such scams usually involve victims paying for items offered on online marketplaces or social media platforms, but not receiving the goods.

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The police warned that in some cases, the victims could also be sellers.

The scammers pretend to be interested buyers, but do not pay up after receiving the goods. These scammers may even provide victims with fake screenshots as “proof” of payment. 

E-commerce scams mostly took place on Facebook, Carousell and Telegram, usually involving the rental of residential units and the sale of electronic goods. 

The third most common scam in the first half of 2023 was the fake friend call scam, with 3,855 cases and victims losing a total of $12.6 million.

This scam was not even in the top five scams of concern during this period last year, though it was the fifth most common scam in the whole of 2022, with 2,106 cases reported then.

The police said fake friend call scams involve scammers contacting victims over the phone and pretending to be their friend.

The scammers would then capitalise on the friendship and use various reasons to request money from the victims.

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Phishing scams, the fourth scam of concern, saw victims lose $7.4 million, with 2,991 cases reported.

It generally involves e-mails, text messages, calls or advertisements from scammers impersonating officials or trusted entities to trick victims into revealing their details, including credit card or bank account information.

The scammers would then perform unauthorised transactions on the victims’ cards or bank accounts.

In some cases, scammers would impersonate government officials like the police or a ministry official and call victims, who would be convinced to hand over their banking credentials, one-time passwords or personal details.

Overall, in the first half of 2023, victims lost the most money to investment scams, which saw 1,598 cases and $97 million lost.

There were 1,573 incidents reported during the same period last year, and victims lost a total of $104.3 million.

The police said victims would usually come across “investment opportunities” through their own Internet searches or via recommendations from online friends.

They would be enticed by the scammers to transfer money to unknown bank accounts or cryptocurrency wallets for investment purposes.

Victims would receive small profits initially and be enticed to transfer even more funds. After that, they would be unable to withdraw their earnings and the scammers would become uncontactable.

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A scam of concern flagged by the police was malware-enabled scams – a category not listed among the top 10 scams in the first half of 2023.

More than 750 victims downloaded malware onto their mobile phones and were cheated of at least $10 million.

Eleven of these reports involved unauthorised Central Provident Fund withdrawals, where at least $218,000 was lost.

In the second half of 2022, there were only around 110 reports on malware-related scam cases.

The police said victims of these scams would respond to online advertisements, such as home cleaning, pet grooming or food purchases, on social media platforms.

Scammers would then send victims a link on WhatsApp, urging them to pay for the items or services.

The link would direct victims to download an app containing malware onto their Android phones, which would allow the scammers to take control of the devices and withdraw money from the victims’ bank accounts.

How can you act against scams?

Add security features such as ScamShield and two-factor authentication for personal accounts. Also, set up transaction limits for Internet banking, to limit the amount of funds possibly lost in the event of a scam.

Check for potential signs of a scam by asking questions, fact-checking requests for personal information and money transfers, and verifying the legitimacy of online listings and reviews. Take the time to pause and check. If it is too good to be true, it is probably untrue, and a scam.

Tell the authorities and others about scam encounters by reporting to the bank, ScamShield, or by filing a police report. Tell others about ongoing scams and preventive steps they can take.

Online anti-scam resources

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