Nearly 470 OCBC Bank customers lost at least $8.5 million to a spate of SMS phishing scams last month. Other banks such as DBS and UOB recently warned of similar scams impersonating bank employees.
Oftentimes, scammers are difficult to catch because many use cunning methods. They can immediately dispose of the fake websites, IP addresses, companies, and phone numbers which they use during their scams. This makes them hard to track, and even when arrested, it is unlikely that victims can recover all or even part of the money that was lost.
With the recent wave of scams in Singapore, consumers must stay vigilant to beat scam attempts and safeguard their funds.
Here are some of the most common types of scams to avoid, and some ways for victims to respond.
1. SMS Phishing Scams
In the recent scams involving OCBC Bank, fraudsters sent SMS messages claiming to be from the bank to trick its customers.
Some scammers have made use of the same sender identification labels used by the legitimate banks when sending fake SMS messages.
For example, some of the SMS messages sent to OCBC customers seemed to have been sent by “OCBC” and appeared in the same message thread as previous genuine messages.
The messages often claim there is a problem with the recipient’s bank account that needs to be resolved urgently, and include a link to a fake website that resembles the real one.
Victims who enter their log-in information and one-time passwords (OTP) on the fake website can quickly have their accounts breached and their savings stolen.
As a countermeasure, banks are now tightening their security, such as by removing clickable links in SMSes after the OCBC phishing scams.
2. Impersonation Scams
Another type of phishing scam involves crooks posing as authority figures such as the police, job recruiters or government officials.
Using SMS messages, e-mails or phone calls, they try to convince potential victims to part with money or give up sensitive information. This includes banking log-in details or personal data such as NRIC numbers.
A variant involves fake bank hotline numbers being listed on Google search results. Victims who call these numbers will be connected to scammers pretending to be bank staff.
Common tactics involve claiming the recipient has got into legal trouble, or offering simple yet well-paid part-time jobs and investment schemes with high interest rates. Victims who respond are asked to pay fees or provide personal information.
The police, the Supreme Court and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board recently warned the public of such scams.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many scammers also pretended to be calling from the Health Ministry and claimed they were requesting information for contact tracing purposes.
They often mask the caller ID number to appear as a local number starting with the Singapore country code “+65”, even though they may be calling from overseas.
Scammers may also pose as one’s contacts. E-mail addresses, for example, can be spoofed to appear as if the message was sent by a colleague or friend requesting money for urgent personal needs.
3. E-commerce and Delivery Scams
Scams involving fake item listings often take place on e-commerce marketplaces, auction sites or trading features on social media platforms.
The most common type involves listing high-demand items such as gaming consoles or concert tickets for unusually low prices, which tempts users who are looking for a bargain.
Once payment has been made, the “seller” disappears or becomes unresponsive, and the would-be buyer never receives the promised item.
Some scammers claim to be offering “pre-orders” that will take some time to arrive in Singapore, which can cause victims to delay making a complaint or report.
Another related scam involves unsolicited SMS messages or emails claiming the recipient’s parcel is stuck in transit and that a fee must be paid to ensure delivery. Victims sometimes fall for such claims even if they had not ordered any item.
4. Love Scams
Posing as attractive potential partners, scammers usually target vulnerable victims on dating and social media platforms, often using stolen photos on their profiles.
After befriending the victims and gaining their trust, the scammers spin a tale about falling on hard times and ask for money.
They may also demand gifts or money as proof of the victim’s love, or claim they need the money to arrange a visit to the victim’s country.
Another common ruse is for scammers to invite their smitten victims to buy into fake investment schemes or business ventures.
The Offence of Scamming in Singapore
According to section 415 of the Penal Code, cheating occurs when a person:
- Fraudulently or dishonestly deceives the victim to either hand over property or money to any person, or consent that another person retains his property or money; or
- Intentionally induces a deceived victim into either doing anything that he would not do if he had not been deceived, or omitting to do something that he would have done if he had not been deceived. The acts or omissions must also cause, or must be likely to cause, damage or harm to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.
The penalty for cheating under section 415 of the Penal Code is a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years.
There is a more serious form of cheating found under section 420 of the Penal Code, which targets cheating by intentional or dishonest inducement of the delivery of property.
Such aggravated cheating occurs when a person cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the victim to:
- Hand over property to any person;
- Partially or completely make, alter or destroy a valuable security (such as credit cards, stored value cards and automated teller machine (ATM) cards);
- Make, alter or destroy a signed and sealed document which may become a valuable security.
- The penalty for such aggravated cheating under section 420 of the Penal Code is a fine and imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Penalties for Cheating in Singapore
For the general offence of cheating, courts generally impose a fine if the quantum of the sum of money cheated is small and there are no aggravating factors.
For aggravated cheating under section 420 of the Penal Code, imprisonment is mandatory. Nonetheless, there are exceptional cases where an offender convicted of aggravated cheating may receive the sentence of imprisonment for only 1 day (in addition to the compulsory fine). This can only happen if there are no aggravating factors and there are exceptional mitigating factors.
What Can Victims Do?
If you are a victim of scamming, you may make a police report:
- At a police station;
- Online, through the Singapore Police Force website; or
- By calling the “999” police emergency line.
The police will conduct further investigations and the accused person may be charged in court if there is sufficient incriminating evidence.
Recourse through the criminal courts – When you have been cheated of your property or money, the court may order the offender to make compensation to you. However, this does not guarantee that the property or money you were cheated of can or will be recovered and returned to you.
Recourse through the civil courts – Alternatively, you may file a civil claim against the accused person to recover your money. Even if damages were awarded at the criminal courts, you may still commence civil proceedings against the accused person.
It is recommended that you engage a civil litigation lawyer to assess the merits of your case before you proceed with commencing a suit against the accused person yourself.
Alternatively, if you have been accused of committing a cheating offence, consider engaging a lawyer to advise you on your options and assist with your case. This can include contesting the charge if you believe that you are innocent, or pleading guilty and negotiating for a lighter sentence.
Get in touch with trusted criminal lawyers via Asia Law Network’s Quick Consult today.
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.