The present situation in Singapore
Within this year itself, scams have hit 1,491 cases and a total of 102 people island-wide are under investigation for their alleged scams. The number of scams in Singapore has been skyrocketing. With the help of popular applications such as WeChat and Carousell, it has become easier for fraudsters to locate their prey and extract personal details for dishonest purposes. According to Scamalert.sg, a website created by the Singapore Police Force, the width of scams have been growing – from online purchase scam and internet love scams to credit for sex scams and even investment scams.
Unfortunately, for this reason, more and more individuals are becoming victims, making it harder for authorities to facilitate. The truth is: we are all not safe from this offence. We are living in a digital world, where our personal information can be accessed by almost everyone. Hence, we must not only take precaution, but do our part in bringing the fraudster to justice.
How to identify a scam?
With technology becoming so advanced, scams are proliferating all over the web space. Scamalert.sg has helped us in understanding the signs to identify different scams.
- Telephone Calls
The simplest way in which a scam can take place is through a telephone call. In such cases, the fraudster may disguise himself as a delegate from a company, bank or even a government organisation. Receiving a phone call may be normal. However, receiving the call unexpectedly, or from an unfamiliar or unaffiliated organisation may be of suspicion. Some calls may not necessarily be from an organisation, it may also be from a stranger deeming that they know you.
Normally, a fraudster might call you to extract your personal details to use it for an untruthful purpose. Personal details might include your bank account details and your home address.
Another way in which scams can come about is through the use of electronic communication. These platforms can include e-mail, SMS and popular applications such as Whatsapp, Messenger, WeChat, Carousell. This mode of communication allows for scammers to easily access your profile as they may expose your personal details.
Through the electronic communication, scammers might inform you regarding a prize or a monetary gain. In order to receive that gain, they may tell you to pass your bank account details to them so that they can transfer the prize money. Greed and convenience traps thousands of victims into believing scammers.
Language and Tone
The language and tone of the alleged scammer can be used to identify a scam. Companies, banks and government organisations normally delegate workers who have acquired great oral skills to communicate with customers. In some cases, many victims encounter scammers who impersonate these workers, yet who have poor oral communication. Poor grammar and linguistics may suggest that the “worker” may not be working for the alleged company.
A scammer may also ask you to keep quiet regarding their dealings, or ask you to hurry in doing a task. Also, he may not be willing to give you his contact details. Ironically, this is contrary to any organization’s practice. These signs might indicate suspicion towards a scam. When in doubt, end communications with the individual and consult the organization physically, for any queries.
What to do if you are scammed?
It is not the end of the world if you have just been scammed. As a victim, you can do your part in bringing the scammer to justice. There are several steps you can take if you have been scammed.
- Call 1800-722-6688
The Singapore Police Force and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) have launched a helpline. With this helpline, victims can seek advice as well as formulate plans of action.
You can call this hotline for any scam.
- File a Police Report
You can file a police report and use the police’s aid to deal with the scammer. This can be done at the nearest police station. The Singapore Police Force’s website: https://www.police.gov.sg/ can also be used to lodge your complaint. To strengthen your complaint, you must make sure to collect and produce sufficient evidence in the report regarding your scam. This includes mentioning the seller’s bank account details or even screenshots of your conversation.
If the investigation is successful, the scammer would most probably be charged in court under one of the sections from Section 415 to Section 420 of the Penal Code, depending on the severity of the offence. The punishment for a simple cheating offence is an imprisonment term which may extend to 3 years, or with a fine, or both. However, an aggravated form of cheating may attract a harsher imprisonment term which may extend to 10 years, or with a fine, or with both.
By filing a report, you are helping to keep Singapore safe from such scammers. This will contribute in preventing such incidents from occurring to other people.
However, note, there is no guarantee that you will receive compensation. Insufficient evidence or the mere fact that the court did not order the scammer to compensate, may prevent you from receiving your remedy.
You can file a police report for any scam.
- Filing a Magistrate’s Complaint
You can file a Magistrate’s Complaint against the scammer at the Community Justice Tribunals (CJTD) of the State courts. This applies to cases concerning e-commerce scams where the seller (scammer) refuses to give the item, after the buyer has paid for it. The court will examine whether the complaint is legitimate. If so, the police will then investigate the matter.
The State Courts of Singapore has provided a directory on how to file a Magistrate’s Complaint.
However, note that filing a Magistrate’s report may be more costly than filing a Police Report. Like the Police Report, there is no guarantee of retaining the lost money.
You can file a Magistrate’s Complaint for e-commerce scams.
- Report to the Internet Service Provider (ISP)
If you have experienced a scam online – through a mode of electronic communication, you can report the scammer to the respective ISP. For example, on Carousell, you can report the seller or their listing to the Carousell Support Team.
With e-mail service providers such as Google and Yahoo, there is an icon within the email itself that allows you to report for ‘phishing’ or for ‘spam’. You can find that icon next to ‘Reply’, under ‘More’, there is an option for report phishing.
Applicable to online scams
- Report the fraud physically
You can also take the initiative to report the matter to the company or the organization that has been impersonated. By doing this, you are notifying the organization and helping them to amend their security provisions.
Applicable to online scams and scams made by telephone calls.
- Report the fraudster to the respective online commercial portal
You can lodge a complaint with the online commercial portal. You can notify the portal regarding the dishonest vendor. The portal will then take relevant action.
Applicable to e-commerce scams.
- Bringing a claim against the fraudster
Especially in e-commerce scams, you can file a claim against the fraudster with the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT). The SCT can hear claims from any contract for the sale of goods up to S$10,000.
Under Section 11 of the Electronic Transactions Act, an effective contract can be formed through electronic communication. This is applicable to e-commerce scams. Also, all the claims must be filed within 1 year from the issue.
- Lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE)
CASE can help with e-commerce scams. CASE helps you with the process of resolving your dispute. It can help you draft a letter to the retailer as well as advise you on options regarding legal proceedings.
Applicable to e-commerce scams.
How to prevent being a victim of scams?
- Call 1800-722-6688
If you are in doubt, or are in a situation where you suspect that there is a potential scam, call this helpline. This helpline will advise and provide you with plans of action. This helpline is launched by the Singapore Police Force. Call 999 for any urgent police enquiry.
- End Communications
If you notice suspicious activity, end communications with the individual. Do not give out your personal and bank account details. Do not send any money without verifying the purpose and the necessity of the task.
- Check before befriending anyone on social media
Be careful when befriending strangers on social media. Verify their profile to ensure that it is a real person and an account that does not attract any suspicious attention.
An online scam can occur in a multitude of situations. The simplest type of scam is sometimes also the easiest for people to fall prey to. It may be as simple as posting an online sale listing and convincing someone to make payment for a particular item without genuinely having the item or legal authority to dispose of the item. More complex cases involve a higher degree of planning, syndicates and credit card fraud and the perpetrators may not even operate in Singapore.
In situations where the perpetrators are not operating in Singapore, it would be more difficult for the local police to investigate further into the matter and to apprehend them due to jurisdictional limitations.
If you are a victim of an online scam, the first step that you should take is to file a police report for the local police to investigate into the matter. Doing so not only increases your chances of recovering what you are being cheated of, but also brings the perpetrators to justice and further helps prevent others from being a victim to the perpetrators.
Whether or not a victim of an online scam requires the service of a lawyer depends on the case and the redress that the victim is looking for.
Bringing the offender to justice
If the outcome that the victim is looking for is to bring the perpetrators to justice, most of the time, when a police report is lodged together with incriminating evidence and if the identity of the suspect can be traced, the matter would be investigated and upon apprehension, the suspect may be charged in Court.
In very sparse cases where the Police omits to take further action against the alleged offender, the victim may file a Magistrate’s Complaint to prosecute the alleged offender with the help of a lawyer. The lawyer would then act as a private prosecutor to prosecute the offender. A successful prosecution of the offender would attract the punishments prescribed under Sections 417 to 420 of the Penal Code. However it does not automatically mean that the property or monies that the victim is being cheated of can be recovered.
Recovery of cheated property
Through the Criminal Courts
The most important thing in determining whether the property that the victim is being cheated of can be recovered is whether the offender can be traced. If the offender cannot be traced, there would be little that the Police or your lawyer can do.
Suppose that the offender can be traced and is subsequently charged in Court, the offender may voluntarily choose to make restitution to the victim which would serve as a mitigating factor.
If no restitution has been made by the offender, the Court may, when it is appropriate, exercise its power to order the offender to make compensation to the victim. This is known as a “Compensation Order”. A compensation order would not bar the victim from seeking further redress at the civil courts.
Through the Civil Courts
Another way in which a victim may try to recover all or part of the monies or property that he or she has been cheated off is to file a civil claim. Before filing a civil claim, it is advisable that the victim seeks legal advice to determine whether such an endeavor is worthwhile.
Before filing a civil claim, the identity of the Defendant must be known. A background check would be performed by the lawyer to assess whether the Defendant is a bankrupt or whether he has properties under his name. Depending on the amount involved, the matter may be heard by a Magistrate’s Court, District Court or the High Court.
If the redress that the victim is looking for is the recovery of the monies or properties that he or she is being cheated of, it is also advisable that the victim seeks legal advice as soon as possible as there is a time limitation under the Limitation Act limiting the right to sue.
Have any questions about online scams?
If you have any questions about online scams, you can get a Quick Consult with Xavier Lim or with other lawyers. With Quick Consult, for a transparent, flat fee, a lawyer will call you back on the phone to give you legal advice.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.