SINGAPORE, Feb 19 — Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram — platforms under social media giant Meta — continue to be the main avenues for scammers to contact their victims, according to data released by the police yesterday (Feb 18).

In their annual scams and cybercrime brief for 2023, the police said that the number of scam cases that occurred via social media rose from 7,539 in 2022 to 13,725 in 2023.

Of these, about 71.7 per cent of victims were targeted on Facebook, and 18.5 per cent on Instagram.

And out of the 12,368 cases where scammers contacted victims on messaging platforms, about 68 per cent used WhatsApp.

Advertisement

“Three products from Meta — Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram — are of particular concern and continue to be over-represented amongst the platforms exploited by scammers to contact potential victims and conduct their scams,” the police said in a news release yesterday.

Overall, scams and cybercrime cases in Singapore rose by 49.6 per cent to 50,376 in 2023, compared to 33,669 in 2022, though the total amount of money lost to scams dropped for the first time in the last five years.

That amount — S$651.8 million — is a 1.3 per cent decrease from the S$660.7 million lost to scams in 2022.

Advertisement

In 2023, at least S$204.5 million was lost to investment scams, S$135.7 million to job scams, S$23.1 million to fake friend call scams, S$14.2 million to phishing scams, and S$13.9 million to e-commerce scams.

The average amount lost to each of these top five scam types has generally decreased, the police said.

Overall, the average amount lost per reported scam case decreased by about 32.8 per cent, from S$20,824 in 2022 to S$13,999 in 2023. Just over half (55.6 per cent) of scam cases have losses less than or equal to S$2,000.

They added that the decrease could be attributed to the “proactive and coordinated” efforts by the police and their partners to prevent scams, and stop or reduce losses during ongoing scams.

While this may be a slight improvement, the amount of money lost to scams involving the use of social engineering and deception still remains high, the police said.

Of the total scam victims, data showed that about 73 per cent of them were youths aged 19 and below, young adults aged 20 to 29, and adults aged 30 to 49, who also made up the largest proportion.

Data also showed that these three demographics are typically targeted by scammers through messaging platforms, social media and online shopping platforms, and would fall prey to e-commerce scams, job scams, and phishing scams.

Top scam concerns

Scams involving jobs, e-commerce, fake friend calls, phishing and investments were the top five ruses Singaporeans fell prey to in 2023.

Job scams, in particular, recorded the highest number of cases in 2023 — 9,914 — a 52.7 per cent increase from the 6,492 cases in 2022.

The total amount lost from job scams rose by 15.6 per cent, from around S$117.4 million in 2022 to at least S$135.7 million in 2023.

These scams typically involve victims who are offered online jobs that could be performed from home. They would be asked to complete tasks for a commission, or be offered other opportunities to earn money.

The second highest category, e-commerce scams, jumped by 105.4 per cent — from 4,762 cases in 2022 to 9,783 in 2023.

However, the total amount lost through such scams fell to S$13.9 million in 2023, 34.7 per cent less than the S$21.3 million lost in 2022.

Notably, scammers were able to devise a new variant of e-commerce scams that involved freecycling.

Such scams involve victims who come across posts offering free giveaways or sales of items at discounted prices, who are later tricked into making monetary goodwill deposits, reservations fees, or payment for delivery.

Another new scam that emerged last year was malware-enabled scams.

About 1,899 victims fell prey to such scams by downloading malware onto their phones. They lost a total of S$34.1 million — an average of S$17,960 lost per case.

Victims who fell prey to such scams usually responded to online advertisements for various services, such as food and pet grooming, and would then be sent a link to download an Android Package Kit (APK) with malware, as a pretext to make payment.

The malware within the APK file would grant scammers remote access to the victim’s device, allowing them control over it and access banking credentials and other private details.

In response to this, the Government launched a series of anti-malware measures, which include working with banks to roll out enhanced security to safeguard money in Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, and a safe app standard to help local developers enhance mobile app security.

Such measures led to a decline in cases towards the end of 2023, the police added.

New limit for post-paid sim cards

On top of existing anti-scam measures — which include allowing telco subscribers to block incoming calls from international numbers on their mobile phones — the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will roll out a new safeguard to limit the amount of post-paid SIM cards per subscriber.

This measure, which will take effect from April 15, aims to protect against the misuse of local SIM cards for scams, and will only apply to new registrations.

It comes after the police conducted four island-wide operations last year, which targeted 17 mobile phone shops. Eleven individuals were arrested for their alleged involvement in fraudulently registering SIM cards using the particulars of other people.

These individuals had purportedly helped scammers exploit post-paid and prepaid SIM cards as an anonymous channel of communication for their illegal activities.

As such, to deter such instances from occurring again, IMDA will be imposing a limit of 10 post-paid SIM cards.

This measure will not only limit misuse but also cater to the needs of legitimate users who might need to register on behalf of their family members, the police said.

Individuals who are now subscribed to more than 10 post-paid cards will not be affected, but they will not be able to register additional SIM cards.

IMDA will review the new measure over time to ensure that it stays relevant, the police added. — TODAY