Opinion

4 Reasons Singaporeans are So Easily Scammed These Days

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Joanne Poh

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Ask anyone from Hong Kong, Mainland China or India what they think of Singaporeans, and you’ll often hear the words “gullible” or “naive”.

These people have grown up in places where you have to be alert and on your toes in order to function in society, so they’re often surprised that Singaporeans tend to believe everything you tell them.

And, well, I can’t really say I disagree, judging by the number of people who’ve lost huge amounts of money to scammers this year. The China cops scam alone has netted at least $270,000.

Some of the most well-known scams include the classic WeChat sex scams and the internet lover scams.

Scammers themselves have said that Singaporeans tend to be more gullible than their scam targets in other countries. Why is this the case? Here are some reasons.

 

Being stressed-out multi-taskers makes us less alert

Singaporeans are some of the world’s most overworked, sleep-deprived folks in the world.

On top of that, we’re always multi-tasking, trying to squeeze in as much productivity as we can into a day—parents rush from the workplace to pick up their kids from childcare or drive them to tuition, we’re constantly replying to work-related emails and text messages whether we’re commuting to work, at dinner or in bed, and we try to play Pokemon Go at the office while completing our assigned tasks.

All these factors contribute to our not being terribly alert to what’s going on around us. Just look at the number of zombies walking through MRT tunnels and you’ll see what I mean.

That’s why in the recent ICA scam, where a fake version of the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority’s website was set up, many people failed to notice there were some errors on the phishing site or that they were being redirected to a site on a different domain.

 

We’re extremely wired and spend a lot of time communicating virtually

While old folks who aren’t very highly educated tend to be the easiest people to dupe, there’s a reason many of the Singaporeans who’ve fallen prey to recent scams tend to be educated, middle income people.

This demographic is extremely wired and spends a lot of time communicating virtually. Scammers these days don’t walk around on the streets looking for old people they can sell magic stones to—they send emails, contact people through social media networks and dating websites and call people on their mobile phones. Being contactable via mobile and on the internet makes us particularly vulnerable to being reached in these ways.

For instance, many of the guys who’ve fallen for the Alipay prostitution scams have met the “girls” who’ve offered them sex for cash on WeChat’s find-a-friend function, or even on Tinder.

In a similar vein, the lonely women who are targeted by internet “lovers” who later ask for money in an “emergency” usually get contacted through profiles on dating websites.

Even the latest Mini Cooper giveaway scam on Facebook managed to prey on our addiction to Facebook, as most people entered the phishing site by clicking on a Facebook post that was shared by other people on their friends list who’d been duped.

 

There’s been a sudden spike in the number of online and phone scams in the past few years, catching people unawares

Now, you can’t really blame Singaporeans for not expecting to get scammed every three seconds. Online and phone scams have only recently become common. 15 years ago Facebook didn’t even exist, and people were using pagers, okay?

This means that for many people, especially those who haven’t been keeping up with the news, getting scammed still seems like a very remote possibility. When they receive a message on social media or get a call from the “police” or “bank”, the first thing that goes through their minds is unlikely to be that it’s a possible scam.

 

We tend to be overly focused on our goals

There’s no doubt that Singaporeans are a goal-oriented bunch. Kids go to school not to enjoy learning but to pass exams; people go to work to earn money and little more.

This goal-oriented might be useful in a certain sense, but the downside is that it makes people a blinkered—in their pursuit for something, whether it be money, love or a free Mini Cooper, they fail to take an objective view of the circumstances and evaluate what’s actually happening to them.

That’s why some of the people who fell for the Suisse International gold buyback scam had actually lost money in almost identical gold buyback scams just years before. Assuming these people had at least double digit IQs, they must have been so blinded by greed they didn’t realise they were falling for the same scam twice.

In the same vein, the guys who’ve fallen for AliPay prostitute scams were clearly so mesmerised by the prospect of getting lucky that they didn’t realise they were being asked to send large sums of money without even having met the girl or her agent.

As a kiasu nation, we’re always trying to figure out what’s in it for us in any given situation. But doing everything with such a one-track mind also means we’re slow to notice when something’s off.

Has anyone you know ever been scammed before? Tell us what happened in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.