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Common Online Scams in Singapore and How You Can Spot the Signs

3 May 2024

Over the past few years, local authorities in Singapore have been ramping up efforts to combat the rising scam rate. 

This comes as the world grapples with a tsunami of scam cases leading to losses of S$651.8 million upwards in Singapore in 2023 alone. The unceasing fraudulent pandemic continues to wreak havoc on us, with the latest reports stating up to S$571,000 have been deceived from ticket scams in the first quarter of 2024. 

Singapore is among the most vulnerable nations to scam attempts due to its affluence and high internet usage. Learning how to equip oneself with cognizance in recognising and preventing scams is imperative for avoiding the short- and long-term trauma it can bring. 

What Are Scams?

Scams are a type of fraud. 

Described as tricks designed to deceive individuals into giving away their money, details, or data by Scam Alert, under the National Crime Prevention Council, scams are illegal activities that land perpetrators in jail when caught. 

Unfortunately, because a large portion of scams come from overseas, they can be difficult to track, prosecute and even reversed. Several categories of scams are commonly enlisted by organised crime groups that are increasingly sophisticated and innovative.  

Job Scams

Fake opportunities for work disguised to deceive job seekers seeking legitimate employment are known as job scams. As the leading scam in Singapore, over 9,900 cases of job-related frauds were reported in 2023 last year. 

These scams often begin with a scammer reaching out under the pretence of a prospective employer, extending a high-pay and low-commitment offer. The scope ranges from affiliate marketing and participating in online surveys to evaluating products and services and beyond.  

In these scenarios, scammers incentivise victims by rewarding them with a commission after a given task. This tactic seeks to win the trust of victims and encourages them to complete tasks that require them to transfer out their money.

More than 3,000 victims have lost over S$45 million to job scams between October 2023 and January 2024. 

E-Commerce Scams

E-commerce scams are made to target individuals who are looking to score deals on e-commerce platforms. They are also known as online purchase scams. Concert ticket scams fall under this category, a variation that has raked in over S$223,000 for scammers since the beginning of 2024. 

The concept behind e-commerce scams is simple. Luring online shoppers with attractive product listings, such as sought-after items and irresistible deals, scammers deal with victims as normal sellers would until payment has been made. Then, scammers disappear, leaving victims without ever receiving what they paid for. 

Carousell, a Singapore-based consumer-to-consumer platform largely popular for buying and selling pre-loved items, ranks the lowest of six e-commerce platforms in anti-scam measures (tied with Facebook Marketplace).

Impersonation and Phishing Scams

As its name suggests, impersonation scams involve scammers impersonating trusted individuals or organisations to gain the personal details of victims. Impersonation scams are a form of phishing, a social engineering technique that has its roots in deceiving others through fraudulent communications. 

Tactics for impersonation scams are particularly varied. While some scammers pose as figures from authorities including the likes of the police, banks and telcos, others assume identities of their victims’ close contacts. Through sources such as emails, WhatsApp and Telegram messages, and phone calls, fraudsters directly request for money or hoodwink victims into disclosing confidential information like passwords and bank particulars. 

Impersonation scams are growing more sophisticated day by day. Thus, it is important for individuals to practise vigilance and judgement when dealing with unknown links, numbers, or relinquishing sensitive data. 

Investment Scams

Investment fraud, on the other hand, convinces individuals to part with their money by falsely claiming that the amount they deposit will yield high profits. 

The Singapore Police Force released an advisory in July 2023 warning the public against investment scams. Close to 500 victims have fallen victim to investment scams between June and July that year, amounting to over S$25.5 million in losses. 

According to the release, two distinct approaches are often undertaken by scammers: the befriending and online advertisements approach. While the befriending approach entails scammers connecting with victims before introducing the investment prospect; the latter serves to draw victims in with online ads on social media. 

Like job scams, unsuspecting individuals are first misled to believe in the investment’s success to encourage further deposits. When victims attempt to withdraw their money and exit the investments, scammers may threaten them with heavy penalties or vanish entirely.

Malware Scams

Malware scams have witnessed a sharp increase in recent years. Up to 1,899 cases of Android malware scams were reported in Singapore last year, totalling to over S$34.1 million in losses (averaging about S$17,960 per case). Malware scams are one of the top 10 scams prevalent in Singapore.

Baiting individuals to download external apps or clicking on suspicious links, these frauds operate on the premise of gaining unauthorised access to an individual’s device. Through the installation of malicious software, scammers can control devices remotely and retrieve financial details, transferring money out of accounts and damaging people financially. 

Malware scams can take the form of all kinds of apps and links, from durian tours to food delivery. Over half a million malware apps are created everyday.

Romance Scams 

Romance scams, or love scams, take advantage of victims’ affection and trust to convince them to give up their money. 

These scammers create fake personas on social media, often using photos of attractive men/women, and befriend individuals, eventually starting a relationship with them. Many times, these scammers would claim they are abroad, making it impossible for victims to meet them in person. 

Signs that point to a romance scam can be incredibly subtle. Moreover, cunning fraudsters are also more likely to target those who seem more emotionally vulnerable

Typical excuses for extracting money from victims include financial troubles, plane tickets, medical bills, investment schemes as well as gifts.

How to Spot the Signs?

Knowing how these dishonest schemes work is imperative to detecting their signs. Many scams exhibit similar characteristics with each other because they share the same tactics, drawing from the same psychological principles. Below are some common indicators to watch out for in identifying scams:

  • Too Good To Be True: Scammers regularly entice victims with rates and returns that are incredible and hard to believe. Some of them create the impression that they’re low risk or minimal effort.
  • Disclosure of Personal Details: Scammers like to pose as government officials or banks, hospitals and telcos to get you to reveal your personal information. Be wary of requests for your IC number and bank details.
  • Unsolicited Messages: Scammers fish for victims using friend requests, text messages, emails and phone calls. Be suspicious of unexpected communications with someone you don’t personally know, or someone you need to guess the identity of.
  • Urgent Payment Needed: Scammers often use pressure tactics to coerce victims into acting as soon as possible. They threaten with loss of earnings, spin tales of false emergencies, impose penalty fees and more. 
  • Overseas Communications: Some 90% of scams in Singapore come from overseas. Observe for numbers with a telephone prefix. Nevertheless, scammers can mask their phone numbers and spoof their email addresses.

Final Thoughts

As Singapore faces an increasing onslaught of online scams, understanding and recognising common fraudulent activities can help to offer better protection against financial losses and emotional distress. From a life-changing prospect to an unbelievable investment opportunity, scams can take on various forms. Perpetrators employ a multitude of techniques to exploit vulnerabilities and deceive unsuspecting victims.

Learn how you can stay vigilant, make informed decisions and strengthen the online space with KnowledgeTree Training Centre here.