S’pore sees higher overall crime rate due to rise in scams despite remaining among safest cities globally: Police

Singapore has recorded an increase in the overall crime rate due to a rise in scam cases despite remaining one of the safest cities in the world, according to the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

In the SPF Annual Crime Brief for 2020, released on Tuesday (9 Feb), the police noted that while Singapore topped both the Gallup Global Law and Order report and the order and security category in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index last year, the total number of reported crimes increased by 6.5 per cent to 37,409 cases in 2020.

In 2019, 35,115 cases were recorded.

The overall crime rate increased, with 658 cases per 100,000 population last year, compared to 616 cases per 100,000 population in 2019.

Among the scam cases, online scams saw a significant increase as Singaporeans carried out more online transactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said SPF.

The total number of scam cases reported increased by 65.1 per cent to 15,756 cases last year, from 9,545 cases in 2019.

Scams made up 42.1 per cent of overall crime in last year, up from 27.2 per cent in 2019.

E-commerce most reported type of scam in Singapore in 2020: SPF

Among the top ten scam types, e-commerce scams, social media impersonation scams, loan scams and banking related phishing scams are of particular concern, as they constituted 68.1 per cent of the top ten scam types reported in 2020.

Furthermore, the total number of reported cases for these scams increased sharply by 78.5 per cent, compared to the same period in 2019.

Top ten scam types in Singapore in 2020, as listed in SPF’s Annual Crime Brief 2020. Source: Singapore Police Force

Of five digital platforms used in e-commerce scams, Shopee recorded the most significant increase, from 6.9 per cent with 278 cases to 20.8 per cent with 697 cases.

However, in both years, Carousell remained the most popular platform through which e-commerce scams were carried out.

Breakdown of percentages for e-commerce platforms through which online scams were carried out in Singapore in 2019 and 2020, as listed in SPF’s Annual Crime Brief 2020. Source: Singapore Police Force

Physical crimes such as snatch theft, robbery and housebreaking decreased in 2020: SPF

If scam cases were excluded, the total number of reported crimes in 2020 would have decreased by 15.3 per cent to 21,653 from 25,570 in 2019, the police noted.

Physical crimes saw a decrease last year, with 201 days were free from three confrontational crimes, namely snatch theft, robbery and housebreaking.

Of note, two out of the six crime classes that made up the overall crime rate in 2020 decreased significantly compared to 2019.

Theft and related crimes decreased by 33.1 per cent to 7,448 cases in 2020, from 11,128 cases in 2019.

Housebreaking and related crimes decreased by 24.9 per cent to 211 cases in 2020, from 281 cases in 2019. Both these crime classes recorded a 36-year low, said SPF.

From upping the ante on technology to heightened collaboration with foreign legal enforcement agencies: Police efforts in combating scams in Singapore

To curb the spread of scams in Singapore, SPF said that it has been “adopting a multi-pronged approach to tackle the increase in scams”.

Such an approach includes the following:

  • Strengthening domestic enforcement by the SPF;
  • Increasing collaboration with foreign legal enforcement agencies to disable
    or disrupt crime groups targeting Singapore;
  • Working with various public and private stakeholders to tackle commercial
    crime;
  • Continued efforts at educating the public on how they can protect
    themselves from falling prey to scams; and
  • Constant innovation and use of technology to tackle scams.

The Anti-Scam Centre (ASC), for example, “uses technology to track island-wide scam trends and make sense of the voluminous crime data that the centre processes every day”, said the police.

In 2020, the ASC received more than 11,190 reports involving losses of more than S$164.6 million.

In the same period, the ASC froze more than 9,015 bank accounts and recovered 35% of the total amount scammed, or about S$57.6 million.

The ASC worked with the local telecommunication companies and online marketplaces to terminate more than 1,200 mobile lines, and removed more than 2,900 suspicious online monikers and advertisements involved in suspected scams.

“These achievements were made possible through strong collaboration with key stakeholders such as banks, fintech companies, telcos and online marketplaces. For example, freezing of bank accounts and funds tracing, which previously would take between two weeks and two months, can now be conducted more swiftly, within days,” said SPF.

To filter out SMSes and phone calls sent and made by scammers, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) launched a new mobile app called ScamShield on 20 November last year.

It is currently available for iPhone users, and an Android version is being developed, said SPF.

The app, jointly developed by NCPC and the Open Government Products team from Government Technology Agency, identifies and filters out scam messages using artificial intelligence.

It also blocks calls from phone numbers that were used in other scam cases or reported by ScamShield users.

“These two functions reduce opportunities for scammers to reach out to intended victims,” said the police.

Since its launch, the app has been downloaded by more than 84,000 users. A total of 263,100 SMSes and over 2,300 phone numbers believed to be used for scam calls have been blocked, according to the SPF.

The SPF also works closely with regional and international counterparts and partners such as the Hong Kong Police Force, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Interpol, in the exchange of information and conduct of joint investigations and operations to combat transnational scams.

Public vigilance “our very first line of defence” against scams: Police

Director of Commercial Affairs Department, David Chew said that despite the collaborative measures taken by the police, the scam numbers continue to rise.

“The Police remain resolute in trying to ensure that for scammers, their crimes will not pay, and keeping Singapore residents safe from these criminals.

“Just two weeks ago, we upped the ante by mounting an unprecedented three-day operation. Mobilising resources throughout the whole Force and in close collaboration with five banks, the operation involved our officers conducting live intervention of monetary transfers made by unsuspecting scam victims,” he said.

Mr Chew reminded the public to exercise greater vigilance against scam crimes, as public vigilance “is our very first line of defence”.

Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, How Kwang Hwee similarly noted the rise in online scams, in line with the global trend.

He said that the police “will continue to enhance our public education efforts and work with our partners, the community and business stakeholders to fight crime”.

“We urge everyone to do their part to stay vigilant as we work together to keep everyone safe. A discerning public is the first line of defence to protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming a victim of crime,” said Mr How, who is also the director of the Criminal Investigation Department.

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