Given the current restrictions in overseas travel as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, demand for staycations has been on the rise. Unfortunately, the increased demand has also brought on the increase in scams.
According to police statistics for 2020, e-commerce scams remain the top scam in Singapore with the highest number of reported cases.
E-commerce scam cases have increased by 19.1 per cent to 3,354 cases in 2020, from 2,816 cases in 2019. The total amount cheated increased to S$6.9 million in 2020, from S$2.3 million in 2019. The largest sum cheated in a single case in 2020 was S$1.9 million.
A young couple’s plans for a staycation at Marina Bay Sands were foiled after they were tricked to part with over S$277,000 of their cash – over a period of four months – by a Carousell seller, who offered discounted hotel stays in the five-star hotel.
Although the couple was repeatedly reassured by the Caroussell seller that they would get their money back, they have so far been out of pocket. The seller, 27, who sold discounted hotel stays in Marina Bay Sands, even gave them a physical address to pick up the cash, but always cancelled such meetings at the last minute.
Eventually, the couple decided to lodge a police report, and the scammer was charged in court last month.
How it happened
To stop them from approaching the hotel directly, he told them that he had booked the rooms under a Paiza membership which does not allow members to sell rooms. He even showed them his S$230,000 bank balance to convince them that he did have the money to refund them.
The couple said that they got so wrapped up in the situation that they did not know what else to do, or how to get their money back. The scammer was finally arrested on 21 January, and has been charged in court.
It is not known if the couple got their monies back in full or partial.
Why are scams on the rise, and how do they get you?
With more goods and services being transacted online, it is unsurprising that con artists have also taken their trade to the digital sphere.
One ruse that scammers frequently use is to make their stories as realistic as possible. They try to present evidence to convince their victims of their authenticity. This is likely the case when the young couple was shown the scammer’s S$230,000 bank balance.
A police psychologist has cautioned the public that scammers use techniques common in some of the best advertisements to ensnare their victims. Some victims have fallen for scams even after seeing anti-scam advisories while others remain unconvinced even when police officers try to intervene.
What is being done?
The police have set up an Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) in June last year to focus on disrupting scam operations and to reduce monetary losses by working with business operators, such as financial institutions, telecommunication companies, and digital platform owners.
A key advantage that the ASC has is the ability to get banks to freeze accounts suspected to be involved in scam within a few days. Previously, this could have taken up to two weeks to execute.
While the police have said that it will continue to educate the public on scams through online campaigns, roadshows, and community volunteers, it also stressed that family members can contribute to preventing family members from falling prey to crime.