An escalating number of Singaporeans have fallen prey to different types of scams involving impersonation, e-commerce, internet love, credit-for-sex, and loans topping the list.
This year, 3,591 cases were reported with a total loss of S$83.1 million. The largest sum in a single cheating case was S$4.3 million, through an investment scheme.
The continuing surge in scams has contributed to the growing crime rate despite a slowdown in almost all other crimes – and it is not just Singapore being confronted with this problem.
In a news report published in the South China Morning Post, in Hong Kong, authorities have flagged a rise in online and phone scams since last year. Many victims were young people, and 65% of phone scam cases involved con men posing as “mainland officials.”
In China, victims lost an estimated 390 million yuan (S$75.2 million) in Internet scam cases last year. This was a five-year high, with many young people similarly falling for them as they use online payment platforms more frequently.
Australia has also seen an overall rise in scams in recent years. In August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reported a 56% increase in scam-related losses over the past two years, with an estimated loss of A$532 million (S$495 million) by the end of this year.
And in the United States, the reported losses from online romance scams increased more than four times from 2015 to last year. The country’s Federal Trade Commission noted that more than 21,000 people were tricked out of US$143 million last year alone through such scams.
Singaporeans — too trusting or too naive?
Recently, authorities have accelerated its efforts to tone down scamming, from regular public warnings about the latest tricks by fraudsters, awareness campaigns to the establishment of a dedicated Anti-Scam Centre by the police.
The centre, which was set up in June, is aimed at disrupting scammers’ operations and help mitigate victims’ losses.
Yet, people from various walks of life – young and old, working professionals, housewives and retirees – continue to be cheated. Indeed, as the cases here and elsewhere have shown, there is no such thing as anyone being “too smart” to fall for a scam.
In fact, some experts believe scammers are exploiting Singaporeans’ general trust in authority and the fact that they live in a low-crime environment.
They noted that Singaporeans seem to be especially vulnerable to impersonation scams that involve officials. For example, victims have lost S$7.1 million to China official impersonation scams in the first half of this year – up from a S$6 million loss in the same period last year.
“Singapore is a country with low crime, and often we let our guard down and we do not usually have a high level of suspicion. We are also more trusting of authority figures and do not question their identity,” said psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.
Ms Nur Izyan Ismail, a senior psychologist with the police’s psychological services division, noted that scammers use certain persuasion techniques to hook their victims.
When it comes to impersonation scams, one of the psychological principles in play is obedience to authority.
This means that when scammers pretend to be authority figures, such as police or immigration officers, “we are used to listening to figures of authority and we just obey them”, she said.
Dr Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore (NUS), said he was “reluctant to argue that vulnerability to scam amounts to a Singaporean trait”, given that the number of victims – albeit rising – remain a small proportion of the population.
“But I’d guess the people most at risk of being scammed in the case of impersonation are likely to be quite trusting of others, and quite timid and fearful when encountering someone sounding officious,” he said. -/TISG