While our mobile phones have improved how connected we are to the rest of the world, the digital realm is also where new vulnerabilities and threats are present. From January to June 2023, there were 22,339 scam cases reported — a 64.5 per cent increase from the 13,576 cases during the same period last year. The increase in scams in Singapore suggests that new tactics may be emerging.
So even as we enjoy the convenience and connectivity that technology and digitalisation place at our fingertips, it’s important that we stay vigilant against scammers who seek to exploit our trust. From malware apps to fake friends and love scams, scam tactics have diversified to exploit us when we’re least suspecting and unguarded.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand the most common types of scams in Singapore, tips to avoid falling for these tactics, and ways to protect our elderly loved ones from them.
What are common scams in Singapore?
1. Malware apps
Malware apps often appear as legitimate applications. However, once downloaded, they compromise your device and can steal sensitive information. This could lead to scammers gaining access to your bank account passwords, or other compromising information and data on your phone. Avoid downloading any apps that look suspicious or take a second look if someone you’re making a transaction with tells you to download an app to facilitate it.
In particular, Android users may be more likely to be targeted by malware because of the open nature of the Android OS system.
To avoid downloading third-party malware apps, make sure that you:
- Do not download apps from unknown sites. Instead, download apps from safe and verified sites, such as Google Play Store and Apple App Store
- Do not download apps with poor or no reviews from past users
- Check the number of downloads and reviews before downloading an app
- Do not click on unknown links and advertisements you see online or on social media
2. Government impersonation scams
Getting a call from a government official can be a frightening experience, especially when the caller purports that you’ve committed a crime or an issue with your loved ones. Scammers often rely on our innate fear of authority figures to coerce us into revealing personal information or making payments for dubious purposes.
When faced with such a call, always take steps to verify the caller’s identity such as by asking for their agency, name, and rank. You can also always hang up and call the government agency directly to verify if the caller is legitimate.
3. Phishing scams
Phishing scams involve deceptive emails or messages that mimic trustworthy entities. They aim to trick recipients into divulging sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card details. Often, this can look like a routine email or text message from your bank. However, upon closer inspection, the senders’ address will be wrong, or the message itself may contain strange grammatical errors.
4. E-commerce and finance scams
Online scammers can create deceptive sales or financial schemes that trick us into paying for fraudulent goods and services. Examples could include luxury items on sale at suspiciously low prices, or investment plans that promise exceedingly high returns.
Recent scams have also been less nefarious. Many have been scammed while trying to purchase items such as mooncakes, durians, and eggs from scammers posing as businesses and legitimate sellers on social media.
Don’t be too quick to agree if a deal looks too good — it could very well be a scam.
5. Love scams
Relationship-based scams can be some of the most painful experiences for victims. Scammers often build emotional connections by establishing deep friendships or romantic relationships. Usually targeting the emotionally vulnerable who are lonely or socially isolated, such scams eventually manipulate and coerce victims into sending money through emotional blackmail, the promise of meeting in person or some other excuse related to a personal emergency.
No matter how enjoyable your conversations with them have been, be careful of strangers you meet online and stay alert, especially if they begin asking you for money and favours.
6. Fake insurance scams
In fake insurance scams, the purported insurance agent will attempt to convince you to pay premiums for coverage that doesn’t exist. They often play up our sense of urgency and stoke our fears to convince us to do so. Avoid being swayed and always do your research, whether speaking to trusted family members or looking at user reviews, before purchasing any financial product.
7. Old acquaintances and fake friends
A recent new scam involves scammers calling you and asking if you remember who they are. As you struggle to recognise this foreign voice and eventually offer up a tentative guess, often an old acquaintance, the scammer will immediately assume their identity and begin chatting with you. The conversation will then eventually lead to requests for loans and financial assistance.
How can you and your loved ones avoid falling for scams?
To avoid falling for scams, here are some quick rules of thumb you and your loved ones can use to defend yourself against scammers:
1. Don’t pick up calls from unknown numbers
Unknown numbers are often associated with scam calls. If you receive such a call, let them go to voicemail and try to verify whether the number is legitimate or not before you call them back. A genuine caller will call you back or try to contact you in other ways, so don’t worry about not picking up a potentially suspicious call.
2. Do not reveal personal information
Legitimate entities will not ask for sensitive details, such as your NRIC, bank account number, or credit card number, via unsolicited calls or messages. Once you receive any requests for such information, feel free to hang up the phone, stop messaging, or stop all contact with the other party.
3. Don’t rush into taking action
Often, scammers create a fake sense of urgency and capitalise on their victims’ fear to prevent them from being able to think clearly. For example, a scammer may say that you need to make payment urgently to receive a purchase.
To keep yourself safe, take a moment to verify requests, especially those requiring immediate action or payment.
4. Check whether your apps are legitimate
Only download apps from official app stores to reduce the risk of malware. Plus, checking reviews, ratings, and the number of times an app has been downloaded, can give you a sense of whether an app is legitimate and reliable.
Most importantly, never immediately download an application that someone else has told you to download.
5. Do not tap on unknown links and ads
Be cautious with links and ads, especially those sent by unknown sources or those that you see on social media sites, such as Facebook and YouTube. Tapping on them may lead to phishing sites or malware.
If you’re looking to make a purchase, you should also stick to reputable sellers or websites instead of lesser-known websites.
Are there ways to protect your elderly loved ones from scams?
Our elderly loved ones tend to be the most at risk of being scammed as they usually are less familiar with technology and may not have sufficient digital literacy to distinguish a scam from a legitimate phone call or app.
Here are some ways you can help to protect your elderly loved ones from scams:
1. Share common scam tactics with them
In recent years, scam tactics have been widely reported on our local news. Keeping your elderly loved ones informed about prevalent scams through these news articles, community updates, or informative sessions, can help them to better identify scams.
If you see reports about a new scam, it is a good idea to talk to your elderly loved ones about them.
2. Encourage them to check in with you
Afraid that your family members may rush into taking action or making a payment when targeted by scammers? Encourage your loved ones to slow down and pause on taking any action. Instead, request that they approach you and speak to you about the situation first. This way, you’ll be able to help them verify whether a person or a situation is legitimate or a front for online fraud.
3. Build trust and rapport with your loved ones
Nobody likes to find out they may be a victim of a scam or that they made a mistake in their judgement. It’s important to cultivate trust between you and your elderly loved ones so they feel safe consulting or telling you things about themselves.
What should I do if my elderly loved one has been scammed?
If you suspect that your loved one has been a target of fraud, here is what you should do immediately:
- Freeze your loved one’s credit cards or bank account immediately
- Document as many details about how the scam was carried out. Take screenshots of the conversation with the scammer, note URLs and bank account numbers provided by the scammer, and record the scammer’s phone number
- File a police report online or at a neighbourhood police station near you
- If your loved one falls victim to an e-commerce scam, raise the scam to the platform admins, such as Facebook Marketplace, Shopee, or PayPal
For more resources on what you can do if you suspect that your loved one has been scammed, you may refer to ScamAlert.SG.
Elderly folks may also feel guilty and angry after they find out that they have fallen for a scam. During these times, it is important to continue supporting their emotional needs. Instead of lashing out at them or scolding them, take some time to calm yourself first. It may also be helpful to learn how you can better manage your elderly loved ones’ behaviours.
To safeguard ourselves against scams and remain safe in our digital interactions, we should always keep abreast of the latest scam tactics. Open communication and education are especially important to protect our elderly loved ones who may not be as tech-savvy as us. Be patient and take the time to explain to them how to identify common signs of scams.
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- Chua, N. (2023, September 13). More victims scammed in first half of 2023 but amount lost dips to $334m. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/more-victims-scammed-in-first-half-of-2023-but-amount-cheated-falls-from-342m-to-334m
- Sim, S. (2023, October 17). askST: How can I protect my phone from malware? Can I still shop online safely? The Straits Times.
- (2024, 10 January) You’ve been scammed, what’s next? ScamAlert.SG. https://www.scamalert.sg/resources/gotscammed