Fraudsters are having a field day with a huge rise in the number of people cheated in online scams.
The police handled 7,253 cases across 10 main categories of scams in the six months to June 30 – a 139 per cent surge from the 3,027 incidents in the same period last year.
The main categories were e-commerce and social media impersonation ruses, followed by loan and banking-related phishing fraud cases, data showed yesterday. Other common types involved credit-for-sex rackets, dodgy investment offers, Internet love scams and cases where criminals impersonated government officials from China.
The figures – part of the police’s mid-year crime statistics – contributed primarily to the 11.6 per cent rise in the total number of reported crimes. There were 18,121 offences reported in the first half of this year, up from 16,240 in the same period last year. But if scams were factored out, overall crime dropped 20.5 per cent to 10,151 cases.
The police said the sharp increase in online fraud was due to an increase in transactions during the coronavirus outbreak. “Criminals have been taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation to find new victims, by exploiting the public’s fear and sense of uncertainty,” they said.
E-commerce fraud was the most common type of scam, with 2,089 cases reported in the first half of this year, up 73.8 per cent from 1,202 last year. Many of these were via platforms like Carousell, Shopee, Facebook and Lazada, and often involved electronics, gaming paraphernalia, masks and hand sanitiser – all in demand during the pandemic.
Scams centred on social media impersonation were also an area of concern, with 1,175 cases in the first half, well up on the 83 in the same period last year. Instagram and Facebook were the most commonly used platforms.
Conmen would impersonate friends or family members and trick victims into revealing mobile numbers, credit card data or one-time passwords to sign up for fake contests or promotions. The largest sum lost in a single case of this sort was $367,000, when a victim responded to a link on a purported monetary grant sent to her on Messenger. She revealed her bank account details and transferred the sum to an unknown individual in April.
Another fertile area for crooks centred on finance. Fraud related to loans rose 56 per cent – from 650 in the first half of last year to 1,014 this year – and there were 898 recorded cases of banking-related phishing cons, a huge increase from the 34 last year.
Scammers are also netting larger hauls. The 10 main fraud categories resulted in victims losing $82 million – 97.1 per cent up on the $41.6 million lost in the first half of last year.
Police principal psychologist Carolyn Misir said criminals have become more sophisticated in their methods and start by filtering online profiles to identify and study potential victims. They also tap technology like Photoshop and bots, and generate fake reviews to make their ruses seem as real as possible.
EXPLOITING FEAR AMID PANDEMIC
Criminals have been taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation to find new victims, by exploiting the public’s fear and sense of uncertainty.
THE SINGAPORE POLICE, on the mid-year crime statistics.
“During the Covid-19 period, scammers had heightened levels of victim access. More people were online buying things and communicating with friends, and scammers found ways and means to exploit these vulnerabilities,” she said, adding that crooks often guide potential victims into thinking less and “emoting” more by pushing them into states of fear or panic, or by giving their targets little to no time to process the situation logically.
“You often hear victims saying, ‘I didn’t think before sharing the one-time password’, but we have to be vigilant, as scams can happen to anyone regardless of age or education level,” she said.
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