It seems hackers in Singapore have been keeping busy, even in a pandemic year. Perhaps, even more so, since they are out to prey on people who are desperate for money and sex.
In August, it was reported that the first half of 2020 saw a whopping $82 million lost through the top 10 scams in Singapore, double the amount from a year ago.
This is despite the frequent warnings and public education messages from the authorities about the traps that scammers set to trick victims into parting with their money.
A scam is designed to trick you into giving away your money, personal details or data by offering an attractive deal or false information. To avoid falling prey to these schemes, it’s important to know the common scams and what to do when you encounter one.
Top 5 scams in Singapore
1. E-commerce scams
E-commerce has grown tremendously this year since people are going out less. Unfortunately, e-commerce scams are the top scheme people in Singapore often fall for, accounting for the highest number of reported cases in the first half of 2020.
It’s also no surprise that there have been a raft of recent scam cases involving COVID-19 related items such as face masks, hand sanitisers and thermometers. Otherwise, more common scam transactions often involve the sale of electronic items and gaming-related items.
You might have even received some of these scam messages or emails, luring victims in with super cheap goods or services, and getting them to pay in advance for the items prior to receiving them. The goods may never arrive, or may turn out to be inauthentic. If a deal is too good to be true, it often is.
And if you think you are safe on digital platforms such as Shopee, Facebook and Lazada, you’re wrong! You could very well be cheated on these too. So keep your eyes open for suspicious activity.
E-commerce scams are also raking in more money than ever before. The total amount cheated increased to $5.4 million in the first half of 2020, from just $1 million in the same period in 2019. In fact, the largest sum cheated in a single case on an online marketplace was a painful $175,000. Ouch.
2. Social media impersonation scams
Recently got chatted up by a gorgeous model or a long lost friend on Facebook or Instagram? They may not be who you think they are.
The number of social media impersonation cases here has jumped more than tenfold to 1,175 in the first half of 2020, from 83 in the same period in 2019. The total amount cheated from victims increased to $2.7 million in the first half of 2020, from $726,000 the year before. The largest sum cheated in a single case was $367,000.
The scammers’ modus operandi is classic. In most of these cases, they used compromised or spoofed social media accounts to impersonate victims’ friends or followers on social media platforms. They then chatted victims up on the pretext of helping them to sign up for fake contests or promotions allegedly organised by Lazada, Shopee and Qoo10 (which turned out to be fake). The victims then unsuspectingly revealed their mobile numbers or credit card information and One-Time Passwords (OTP) to the scammers, only to find out later that unauthorised transactions had been made from their bank accounts or mobile wallets.
3. Banking-related phishing scams
You know that annoying automated voice message call you receive from “DBS” on that pending bank transfer you have to settle immediately or risk going to jail?
While many of us simply mutter a few curse words under our breath and hang up the phone, many people in Singapore still continue to fall prey to such scams.
The number of such banking-related phishing cases went up more than twenty-fold to 898 in the first half of 2020, from 34 the previous year. The total amount cheated increased to $3.6 million in the first half of 2020, from just $93,000 the previous year. The largest sum cheated in a single case was a jaw-dropping $506,000.
SPF says that in the majority of these scams, victims on messaging apps such as IMO, Viber and Whatsapp were tricked by scammers posing as bank staff into disclosing their Internet banking usernames, Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) and OTPs. The scammers would then access victims’ bank accounts or their bank card information, and perform unauthorised transactions.
4. Loan Scams
Times of financial hardship such as these are especially ripe for loan scams. Scammers claiming to be staff from a licensed moneylender may send SMSes or WhatsApp messages offering loans and loan services at very attractive rates to random users. Interested parties are instructed to transfer some money as a deposit before the loan can be disbursed. However, after making the transfer, the scammers simply disappear.
The scammers may even ask for the victims’ personal information such as NRIC and contact numbers, Singpass details and bank account numbers, and use these to harass or threaten victims for payment.
Loan scams were one of the most common types of scams reported in the first half of 2020. The number of cases increased by 56% to 1,014 in the first half of 2020, from 650 in the same period in 2019. The total amount cheated more than tripled to $6.5 million in the first half of 2020, from $1.9 million in the same period in 2019. The largest sum cheated in a single case in that period was $250,000.
5. Cyber extortion
In such cases, scammers often befriend victims online on social media platforms such as Facebook, Tinder and MiChat, and then coax them into performing compromising or indecent acts on camera. Afterwards, they use the video footage or images of the act to extort money or online credits from the victims. It can cause a lot of distress to the victim.
The number of cyber extortion cases in Singapore more than tripled to 81 cases in the first half of 2020, from just 25 cases in the same period in 2019. The total amount lost by victims was more than $190,000. The highest amount lost by a victim in a single case was about $26,000.
I got hacked! What should I do next?
The most important thing to do is to contact the company that owns your account. They will advise you on the recovery steps. A simple Google search could help you find the various compromised account tools (for example, you’ll find Facebook’s compromised account tool here and Google’s here).
If you can still access your account, the company may ask you about the circumstances under which your account was compromised, and then advise you to take steps such as checking your account settings and changing your password to secure your account.
If you have been locked out of your account, the company will likely have to verify your identity by asking you a series of questions about your user history, such as previous passwords, email addresses and security questions.
Once you regain control of your account, it is important to change the password of the compromised account, as well as any other accounts you have which may use the same password, in case the hacker tries to hack into them as well. You should also tell family and friends on your accounts about the hack, in case the scammer had tried to contact and scam them.
If a scam occurred, report it to the police.
I have been scammed! What should I do next?
Follow the next few steps and you may be able to even recover some of your lost money.
1. Stop all contact with the scammer and make a police report
Once you realise you are being / have been scammed, do not continue conversing with the scammer. Instead, hang up the phone and stop replying to any emails or letters from the scammer. Try to block the scammer from contacting you if possible, and report the scammer to the police.
2. Do not make any further payments
This may sound obvious, but when you are feeling desperate, it may be tempting to stay in touch with the scammer in hopes of convincing them to return some of your money. However, it is best to break off all contact to avoid getting swindled even more.
Some scammer networks are even known to target recent scam victims, posing as overseas enforcement agencies that can help you get back your money — for a fee. Of course, once the money changes hands, you’ll never hear from them again.
3. Contact the bank or service you sent money through
It may even be possible to get your money back if you immediately contact the bank or service provider you used to transfer money to the scammer. Reputable financial institutions and service providers have policies in place to deal with scams and fraud cases.
To learn more about the various types of scams and get scam-related advice, visit Scam Alert Singapore. You can also call the National Crime Prevention Council's anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-6688.