By Surekha A. Yadav — Singapore is famous for its low crime rates, but the reality is that the country is now at the centre of a relentless crime wave.
Online fraud has reached epidemic proportions.
Almost every Singaporean has been targeted by online or SMS fraud at some point and in 2022, scams cost Singaporeans almost $S700 million (RM2.4 billion).
These are not victimless or paper crimes. People lose their savings, their retirement funds — money carefully put away for education.
This compromises lives and lowers the level of trust and security in society. You have to be cautious with every phone call, SMS and email. Be on constant alert.
Not a single day goes by where I don’t get a call from an unknown number trying to glean my bank details by pretending to be my bank, the Inland Revenue, customer service from Amazon or some such.
Add to that the phishing emails, links and SMSes which also try to trick you into giving up your bank account details. You literally have to be on guard all the time. One wrong click and you can end up with a drained bank account.
The problem is that the attacks are increasing in sophistication all the time.
Now there are SMS diversion scams/hacks. This means scammers are able to compromise phone networks and access your OTPs. There is not much you can do to defend yourself from such complex and technical schemes.
Another method is number generation. Scammers use algorithms to generate random combinations of numbers. By generating millions of combinations, they eventually generate working card numbers and CVC combinations that allow them to make transactions.
Typically, they start with micro transactions on known websites like Amazon or Apple, but once they know they have access to a working card, they quickly escalate the scale of their thefts.
Number generation is virtually invisible — you have no idea someone has generated a copy of your credit card numbers. And they may generate numbers that allow them to access cards that you never use and never give much thought to.
Again, there is virtually no defence.
The problem is no longer trivial. There are signs in every housing area warning people of scams. The government has been active in setting up awareness campaigns, special police units, and creating websites that list and track scams.
But these initiatives have still proved to be insufficient as scammers strike on a daily basis. Everyone you speak to has been a victim, and while this may seem different to a physical crime wave it basically means everyone has been robbed or is in danger of being robbed all the time.
To some extent the modern digital world and prevalence of digital payments makes the profusion of scams and crimes inevitable.
But I think we can do better than we are doing now.
The penalties need to increase, more resources have to be allocated to tracking scams to their sources. Telecom networks and banks whose infrastructure is often used to perpetrate these scams need to be put under more pressure to combat the criminals.
Singapore is famous for its zero tolerance of drugs. I think it’s time for zero tolerance on scams and hacks.
The reality is the problem is beyond the police and without active support from banks and telcos, no real solution is possible.
Banks should be obliged to point out fraudulent transactions at the first opportunity and telcos should also be made to deploy considerable resources to identify violations of and abuse of their networks.
The UK seems poised to pass laws compelling banks to refund victims of credit card and account scams within five days. Rules like this must be implemented in Singapore too because only the active involvement of the state, private sector and ordinary Singaporeans will allow us to defeat these criminals.