Singaporeans have a reputation of being hardworking, a stickler for the rules and… thanks to how safe the country is, a bit naive. And given how numerous scams in Singapore are and how freaking easy it is to scam us, that’s probably true.
No thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to scam people, in particular older folks who have not kept up with modern conmen’s wily ways.
Since COVID-19 has kept many of us at home for much of the year, scammers are taking to the internet en masse, which could be why bank-related phishing scams jumped more than 20 times in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019.
Here are the most common scams in Singapore, and how to stay safe from them.
1. Online purchase a.k.a. Carousell scams
One of the most common platforms where scammers operate is Carousell. Because people are so willing to exchange money for goods on the platform, many have started to abuse this trust in order to run off with people’s cash.
Before you fork out your money for products online, make sure the seller is legit by checking their reviews and past transactions and never pay up until you’ve seen and inspected the item.
If a Carouseller insists you transfer money to him before receiving an item, be suspicious, and if he insists you pay extra charges like GST, head for the hills.
Then there are sellers that get you to pay for your item in advance and then fail to send it to you. To protect yourself from such occurrences, only buy from Carousellers with a proven track record, get them to send you the item by registered mail so the package can be tracked. Insist on meeting up if the item is expensive.
To err on the safe side, you might even want to use Caroupay, the in-app feature that holds your payment until the transaction is done and both parties are satisfied.
Some Carousell scammers also ask that you send them a picture of your IC before completing a transaction. Never ever do that, as the information on your IC can be used for identity theft.
2. Social media & WhatsApp scams
Scammers hack people’s social media accounts and then contact their friends or followers asking for personal information such as mobile numbers or internet banking details, usually on the pretext of helping them take advantage of online promotions. These details are then used to make fraudulent transactions.
And yes, it happens on WhatsApp too! Scammers can hijack your WhatsApp account by using a compromised account to send messages to friends of that account holder, asking for their WhatsApp verification code.
And if you receive messages from a friend that sound a bit “off”, don’t just assume your friend is drunk texting. Get in touch with him or her through another platform such as Telegram to find out if that is really your “friend” contacting you.
If your friends say they’ve received strange messages from you, take this information seriously and investigate.
3. Fraudulent transactions
Apart from social media, some scams operate by hacking into internet banking or e-commerce accounts and then making fraudulent transactions like the purchase of game credits.
If you’re not paying attention to your accounts, it’s easy to let this activity go unnoticed. So, it’s worthwhile keeping tabs on the activity on your various accounts, such as through a routine monthly audit.
Make sure your existing accounts are protected by strong passwords that you change from time to time. It’s also a good idea to close underused accounts so you have one less thing to worry about.
Also, many e-commerce websites and apps now encourage you to link your credit card so you can pay at the touch of a button. This is certainly convenient, but from a security point of view it exposes you to fraudulent transactions should any of these accounts get compromised.
So, wherever possible it’s a good idea to unlink your credit cards from accounts like GrabPay, e-wallets or e-commerce accounts. For apps which you absolutely must link your cards to, avoid linking more than one card so you have fewer credit card statements to monitor.
If you must use mobile payment methods, try to use more legit ones like Google Pay or Apple Pay. You’ll soon be able to transfer funds from your bank account to mobile wallets via PayNow, which lets you bypass using a credit card.
4. Phone scams
While more and more people are phone phobic, it appears that the scammers are still reliant on this channel. We’ve all received those dodgy calls where the person on the other end of the line starts blabbering away in Mandarin the minute you answer the phone.
If it’s a phone call that is unsolicited and the caller sounds strange, just stay calm, hang up immediately and verify the information through official channels first.
To be on the safe side, never answer a call from an unknown caller if it isn’t from a local number. All overseas calls now start with +, so you’ll instantly know if you’re receiving a call from abroad. Conversely, in order to avoid confusion, calls from Singaporean numbers no longer start with “+65”.
You can also download ScamShield, a new mobile app developed by Singapore’s Government Technology Agency. The app filters scam calls and messages so you don’t have to waste precious time hanging up on scammers or deleting their texts from your phone.
The app maintains a database of scam numbers and simply filters calls and SMSes from known scammers. It doesn’t collect your information to send it to the police, so you don’t have to worry about security issues.
5. Cryptocurrency & investment scams
Investment scams are big here in Singapore, as many people are willing to throw caution to the wind in hopes of making a quick buck.
You’re probably heard of the gold buyback scams, which rear their ugly heads in Singapore every few years to fleece investors of their hard-earned cash.
Well, cryptocurrency scammers are using the same tactics by promising huge returns. These scams have investors throwing in their money into what they think is an investment, and later finding themselves unable to get it back when the payouts mysteriously stop. Some scammers also ask for personal and financial details that can later be used for identity theft and to hack accounts.
Avoid being scammed by using some common sense and learning to invest on your own (such as through the MoneySmart blog!). Understand how to grow your own money so you don’t get cheated by someone purporting to grow it for you.
6. Internet love scams & credit-for-sex scams
Due to the number of people looking for love online these days, love scams are on the rise. A love scammer typically targets a lonely person using a social network such as Facebook or a dating site such as Tinder.
After investing many hours chatting and building up a romantic connection, the scammer predictably asks for money, usually on the pretext of a grave emergency. One Singaporean woman lost $1.1 million, so never underestimate the power of “love”.
Another common one is the credit-for-sex scam. These scams typically target men on apps and social networks like WeChat and Tinder by offering sexual services. The non-existent prostitute agrees to meet up with the victim on condition that he first makes payment, often by buying Alipay Purchase Cards or iTunes gift cards.
These scammers target lonely hearts online, building rapport and forming a “relationship” with them over weeks and months. But it’s not as straightforward to avoid these scams as you can’t read reviews of people. All we can recommend is that you be very cautious of seemingly attractive people online.
7. Rental scams
Oh, by the way, scams don’t just take place online and over the phone. Scammers have also been known to target landlords in rental scams.
One iteration of this scam is a phishing scam in which the tenant says they will pay you first. They ask for your account details and personal details like NRIC number. Then they use the information to hack your accounts.
In another scam, a tenant rents your property, and then sublets it to someone else without your knowledge. They usually pay a few months’ rent, and then skip town and happily collect the rent from the subtenant. Eventually, when your rent stops coming in, you turn up at the property to find out what’s going on only to find a total stranger living there.
There is another iteration of this scam, which happens when the tenant simply sublets your property at a higher price on Airbnb. This can go on for a long time without your ever knowing, so make sure you inspect your property from time to time.
There are other landlord rental scams, including using your property to store illegal goods like drugs or pirated DVDs, or using your property as a brothel. The key here is to inspect the property often and talk to the neighbours so they can warn you if something smells fishy.
How do you know if you’re being scammed?
When it comes to scams, prevention is better than cure. The best thing you can do is to keep up-to-date with the news so you’re aware of the latest scams and do your due diligence by keeping an eye on your credit card statements and online accounts.
Never give out personal data like passwords or credit card numbers to individuals on online platforms like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger.
Hopefully, you will realise you are being scammed BEFORE you have lost millions. Here are some red flags:
- You are being asked to transfer or receive money, or to purchase items like gift cards.
- You are asked to pay for something in advance before receiving the item.
- You are being asked to transfer payment somewhere when it is not usually standard practice (e.g. in the case of Carousell where payment is usually made in cash in person).
- You are being asked for your NRIC, personal details, banking details or passwords/pin codes.
- An investment opportunity sounds too good to be true.
There are lots of old tricks that scammers use over and over again, but that continue to work because people are not aware that thousands of others in Singapore have fallen prey to the exact same thing.
You can learn a lot about the various types of common scams simply by reading up online. The Singapore Police Force’s scamalert.sg website is a good place to start.
What to do if you’ve been scammed?
If you spot suspicious charges on your credit card, you should contact your bank immediately so they can reverse the charges and block your card if necessary.
The bank will investigate and if they find that your dispute is valid, you won’t be charged. This should be done within 120 days of the charge being made, so make sure you check your credit card statements regularly.
In any suspected scam, you should also go to the police immediately so the case can be investigated. If necessary, you can submit the police report to your bank to support your dispute.
If the scam does not involve credit card charges made by a scammer, sorry, you’re out of luck — you won’t get your money back except in the very unlikely event that the scammer gets caught and charged in Singapore, found guilty and ordered by the court to pay you back.
Many scams in Singapore are operated by criminals based overseas and will never be caught.
How to report a scam in Singapore
Call 1800-722-6688 if you think you’ve been scammed. This is a dedicated hotline maintained by the police and the National Crime Prevention Council for victims of scams in Singapore.
You can also call the hotline if you suspect someone is trying to scam you or simply to ask for advice.
Once you are sure you are being scammed, your next step would be to file a police report. Furnish any documents, screenshots and online conversations so the police will have more evidence and leads.
Even if they are not able to nab the scammer, your report will provide the authorities with the information they need to warn others of future scam attempts.
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