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Singapore Police sets up Anti-Scam Centre, working with banks to disrupt scammers' operations

SUSPICIOUS bank accounts linked to scams can now be frozen in a few days, thanks to collaboration between the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and three major banks here.

By impeding fund transfers in this manner, the SPF's two-month-old Anti-Scam Centre aims to disrupt the operations of scammers and minimise the losses of victims.

Since it was set up on June 18, about 1,000 police reports relating to e-commerce scams and loan scams have been referred to the centre.

So far, 815 bank accounts linked to scams have been frozen, allowing the recovery of 35 per cent - or about S$850,000 - of the S$2.4 million in losses in total.

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This would have not been possible previously, as the process to freeze a suspicious bank account used to take about two weeks, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Aileen Yap, assistant director of the Specialised Commercial Crime Division in the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), who led a team of six officers across various departments in the SPF to set up the Anti-Scam Centre.

In addition, the retrieval of bank account holders' details and bank statements for police investigations also used to take about 14 to 60 days. But DBS, OCBC and UOB bank accounts can now be frozen in a few days. The screening of the account holder's details and latest bank balance can also be completed within the same time frame, while bank statements can be retrieved within five working days.

There was a need to set up a centralised unit to tackle the crime , as the types of scams and modus operandi of scammers are constantly evolving, Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Lim Hao Jun from the Criminal Investigation Department's Operation, Investigation Policy and Training Division, told a media briefing on Monday (Aug 26).

"This explains why, in spite of the police's outreach efforts, more people are still falling prey to scams," said DSP Lim, who is part of the team of officers who helped set up the centre.

"Our previous efforts for enforcement and outreach have prevented an astronomical rise in scams, but we have to continually rethink on how to deal with this problem," he added.

As the nerve centre for scam reports, the Anti-Scam Centre will streamline the investigation and prosecution process, and enable the police to intervene as quickly as possible to disrupt scammers' operations, said DSP Lim.

This includes working closely with digital platforms such as Carousell to introduce scam prevention measures.

Last June, the online marketplace introduced CarouPay, a form of escrow account that will hold money paid by buyers until the sale is acknowledged by both buyers and sellers.

More recently, in March, the platform introduced machine learning technology to prevent users from creating multiple accounts, as this is one of the ways e-commerce scammers operate, said Carousell's vice-president of operations, Ms Tan Su Lin.

This has stopped about 75,000 new accounts from being created, she said.

The Anti-Scam Centre will also work with telecommunications companies to terminate mobile lines used by scammers, and find "effective measures" to disrupt scammers' operations.

A physical centre for the Anti-Scam Centre will be officially launched later this year.

The police initiative comes as its statistics show more people in Singapore fell prey to scams in the first half of this year compared to the same period the previous year, contributing to an overall increase in crime from Jan to June.

Among the top 10 scams were those related to e-commerce, loans, credit-for-sex and Internet love.

The number of scams related to loans and credit-for-sex as well as the total amount cheated for both more than doubled in the first six months this year compared to the same period last year.

Last year, there were 315 loan scams from Jan to June, resulting in losses of at least S$670,000. This jumped to 692 cases and S$2.2 million in losses in the same period this year, with the largest amount cheated in a single case totalling S$82,120.

Meanwhile, credit-for-sex scams also made a comeback, with the number of cases doubling from 209 in the first half of last year to 456 in the same period this year. Victims lost S$1.1 million in the first half of this year, compared with $464,000 last year.

E-commerce scams and Internet love scams also continued to mount. 

The number of cases for e-commerce scams rose from 1,013 to to 1,435. The total amount of losses climbed from S$870,000 to S$1.2 million. The largest amount in a single case was S$43,000.

The number of Internet love scams also rose, from 288 in the first half of last year to 306 in the same period this year. Victims lost a total of S$17.1 million this year, compared with S$11.7 million in the same period last year. The largest amount in a single case was about S$2.4 million.

Other common scams in Singapore were related to investment ruses, business e-mail impersonations, China officials impersonations, lucky draws, Facebook impersonations and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority impersonations.