With the advent of digitalisation and its integration within our everyday lives, online scams are fast becoming an issue of concern in Singapore. Given how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation push and the integration of all things digital within our everyday lives, it comes as no surprise that online scams are becoming an increasingly prevalent problem in Singapore.
More than S$201 million was lost to online scams in 2020. The number of reported scam cases in Singapore increased by 65.1 per cent from 9,545 cases in 2019 to 15,756 in 2020. More alarmingly, scam cases also took up a larger proportion of crime overall in recent years—42.1% in 2020 compared to just 27.2% in 2019. This year in 2022, at least 587 people in Singapore have already lost S$2.7 million in phishing scams to scammers pretending to be friends while at least 154 victims have already been duped by tech support scams since the start of the of year with losses amounting to at least S$7.1 million.
Headlines of people losing their entire life savings overnight should be more than enough warning for us to always be vigilant about protecting ourselves and our loved ones from online scams.
What is a scam?
Internet fraud or online scams, are dishonest schemes and tactics perpetuated using digital means such as messaging apps, digital marketplaces or smartphone apps with the intention of cheating you of your money. Scammers can use all sorts of strategies to persuade you to part with your hard-earned money from pretending to be your friend, the bank, police, and various authority figures, and even to faking a relationship with you.
Those of us who aren’t tech-savvy may find it hard to navigate the digital realm, which causes great vulnerabilities towards online scammers. Yet, contrary to popular belief, it is not always the frail or weak-minded who fall prey to online scams. Oftentimes, individuals who are overconfident in their own abilities tend to also let their guard down and unknowingly find themselves the victims of online scams.
Signs of online scams to watch out for
Here are a few scam signs you can watch out for so that you and your loved ones can avoid becoming victims of online scams:
- Tempting offers
If an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost definitely is! Tempting offers are a feature of many scam cases, designed to entice and then entrap victims. Common scams with tempting offers as a central ploy include: loan scams, e-commerce scams, investment scams, job scams, and money laundering schemes. Be critical and skeptical, and best of all just ignore the offer if it seems too good to be true.
- Unexpected friend offers
The prevalence of social media in our everyday lives has allowed unprecedented access and potential to form connections with others beyond our circumscribed geographical boundaries. Social media can, however, quickly become a nightmarish source of pain for you and your loved ones if you aren’t vigilant about the strangers that you meet. Social networking platforms, dating sites and online forums are just a few of the many mediums through which scammers may attempt to become acquainted with you and gaining your personal details in the process. Internet love scams often kick off with these first steps before swallowing you whole.
- Pay by gift cards or credit
Unsolicited but attractive online friends and online listings may ask you for up-front payments in the form of gift cards or other kinds of credits. For example, an acquaintance from Tinder or WeChat may suddenly ask you to purchase shopping credits or gift cards in exchange for escorts, massages, or sexual favours. They may even ask you to eventually remit money through post office, wire transfer services or banks. Don’t give into lust and temptation too easily and you can avoid credit-for-sex scams.
- Urgent money transfers
Scammers often fabricate a false sense of urgency to pressure you into making fund transfers. This is done with the purpose of getting you to react emotionally rather than think rationally. When successful, victims can find themselves uncharacteristically willing to part with their hard-earned money. Such tactics are a common feature of scams such as e-commerce scams, social media impersonation scams, China officials impersonation scams, internet love scams, credit-for-sex scams or money laundering.
- OTP requests
Last, but not least, scammers will trick you through disguises and false narratives into revealing personal and sensitive information such as One-Time Passwords (OTPs) for important social or financial accounts. Social media impersonation scams, non-banking and banking-related phishing scams and China officials impersonation scams will often involve requests for you to hand over your OTP. Stay vigilant and never reveal your OTP to anyone else under any circumstance.
As seen above, many scam signs usually require a degree of familiarity with digital technology to recognise. For older people who are generally less proficient at digital technology, such scam signs can be difficult to recognise and may elicit much more anxiety and fear than normal. It’s important that we as caregivers, take the time to impart basic digital literacy skills to our loved ones, and encourage them to be open and transparent about the kinds of digital interactions they may have so that we can also help keep an eye out for them.
Tips to prevent being a victim of online scams
Here are some helpful tips for you and your loved ones to avoid becoming victims of online scams:
- Use Scam Alert
Scam Alert is an initiative that helps educate the public about scams and consolidates information about known scams in Singapore as well. If you suspect that you’ve been scammed or are involved in a scam, you can search their site for similar stories that match your circumstances and quickly seek help. Call their anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-668 for urgent help if you believe you are being scammed.
- Download ScamShield
Scammers often initiate contact with potential scam victims through Short Message Services (SMSes) or phone calls. ScamShield is a smartphone app— currently available for iOS— that helps you to fight scam messages and calls.
ScamShield actively works in the background to filter scam messages and calls from numbers used in illegal activities.
ScamShield compares an incoming call against a list maintained by the Singapore Police Force to determine if the number has been used for illegal purposes and blocks it.
When you receive an SMS from an unknown contact, ScamShield will determine if the SMS is a scam using an on-device algorithm, and filter the messages to a junk SMS folder. Scam SMSes will be sent to NCPC and SPF for collation. This keeps the app updated and will help protect others from such scam calls and messages.
Find out more about ScamShield here.
- Send your elderly loved ones for anti-scam courses
The need for increased digital literacy among our seniors has not gone unaddressed. Lion Befrienders has collaborated with global technology firm NTT to provide digital literacy training to seniors, targeted at helping them identify common ruses and to stay safe online. During such training sessions, trainers will conduct quizzes and group activities with the seniors to help them identify common scams and red flags online. Seniors will also be able to learn how to best keep their digital devices safe, call the anti-scam hotline or seek advice from NTT and Lions Befrienders volunteers in case they come across a suspected scam.
For more information, contact Lion Befrienders here.
Alleviate loneliness for your loved ones
Loneliness can sometimes make a person more susceptible to scams. Engaging a caregiver not only encourages interaction for your loved one; it also provides them with a strong emotional support and alleviates your caregiving worries as well.
Our Care Professionals are equipped with the right skills to handle complex medical conditions, and are trained to manage and regulate different emotions faced by your loved one.
Most common online scams in Singapore
Here are some of the most common online scams in Singapore that you should take note of:
- E-commerce scams
Such scams typically appear as fake online sales listings for expensive or heavily-demanded items. Once victims transfer funds over to would-be sellers, they often disappear without delivering the promised goods, or send over inferior or fake products. Such scams also tend to boast of unusually low prices or promote wildly exaggerated claims about products.
Tip: Stick to making purchases from online platforms where the payment is withheld to sellers until you receive your items. And remember: if it’s too cheap to be true, it probably is!
- Social media impersonation
It could be your friend, your boss, or even your MP! Scammers can pretend to be anyone from your life and invent all sorts of creative ways to get at your money. They usually steal profile pictures and send fake friend requests on social media to ingratiate themselves into your lives.
Tip: Look for proof of their real identities before you interact with any social media account. For well-known personalities, Twitter and Instagram for example, have blue check marks to indicate a verified user. Look out for suspicious signs such as bad grammar, or even strange patterns of postings.
- Internet love
Love can be blind, but don’t let it make a fool out of you. Internet love scammers strike up relationships with victims, manipulating them emotionally. They typically avoid video chatting, and live extremely far away from the victim, often claiming to have a prosperous life. They, however, inevitably always end up asking for loans or gifts that are never returned to victims.
Tip: Use Google Reverse Image Search to check if the profile pictures used are genuine or stolen off the Internet. You can also search for specific things they’ve said to see if they are lifted from common scammer scripts.
- Banking-related phishing
Is that your bank asking for your OTP or is it a scammer?
Scammers can spoof numbers belonging to banks, giving their messages regarding suspended ATM cards or unauthorised transactions an appearance of legitimate authenticity. Victims are then tricked into giving away their banking passwords or paying non-existent fees. Remember, a financial institution will never call you to ask for your sensitive information.
Tip: If you receive a message claiming to be from your bank, don’t respond to the same number. Instead, call your bank’s hotline to check if the message is real.
Now that you know a little more about the signs of online scams and the steps you can take to avoid falling prey to them, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones.
As scammers get increasingly tech-savvy and advanced, it is all the more important to keep our elderly loved ones engaged and connected with others such that they can be aware of the latest scams around and remain vigilant.
Homage offers a wide range of home-based care services that can help alleviate loneliness among older adults. From tailored exercises to healthy and customised meal plans for your loved ones, we offer various solutions to help your loved ones age gracefully in the comfort of home.
Provide the best care to your loved one today! Fill up the form below for a free consultation with our Care Advisory team.
- Baker, J. A. (2021, February 9). More than S$201 million cheated in top 10 scam types last year: Police. CNA.
- Soh, G. (2022, May 12). At least 587 victims lost $2.7 million to scammers posing as friends since start of 2022. The Straits Times.
- Cheng, I. (2022, April 26). At least S$7.1 million lost to tech support scams since January 2022. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/tech-support-scam-victims-lose-7-million-police-csa-2648661
- Scam Signs. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.scamalert.sg/scam-signs
- Menon, M. (2021, September 8). New initiative teaches S’pore seniors how to spot and avoid online scams. The Straits Times.
- Top 10 Scams in Singapore and How You can Avoid being Scammed. (2021, April 19). Frontline. https://www.hometeamns.sg/frontline/how-to-spot-a-scam/