Sunday, 1 October 2023

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Singapore woman loses S$199,996 in deceptive shopping app scam

SINGAPORE — Once again, another victim has fallen prey to an online scam involving a malicious app and impersonation of a police official.

A 56-year-old woman in Singapore, who simply wanted to buy affordable drinks online, tragically ended up losing S$199,996 after downloading a deceptive “shopping app” as instructed by the seller.

The incident was reported by Lianhe Zaobao, a local Chinese media outlet, where the victim, Ms. Lee, shared her harrowing experience.

The self-employed individual came across a Facebook page for a purported “grocery store” on 4 June, offering beverages at unusually low prices.

With an upcoming family gathering in mind, she messaged the seller privately on Facebook, providing her phone number and later communicating via WhatsApp.

The victim grew suspicious after installing the app

The seller directed her to download their company’s mobile app to place an order. However, upon installing the app, she grew suspicious and chose not to respond further to the seller.

Subsequently, the seller claimed that a colleague had transferred S$20 to Ms. Lee’s account via PayNow as a reward for opening an account. Despite the claim, Ms. Lee remained cautious and did not verify if the money had indeed been received.

Seeking advice, she consulted her nephew, who shared her concerns and immediately advised her to uninstall the app.

A few days later, Ms Lee received a WhatsApp message from a man claiming that he had accidentally transferred S$128, meant for his girlfriend, to her account.

Despite her reluctance to get involved, the man insisted that the money was urgently needed for his girlfriend’s life-saving situation, explaining that he mistakenly sent it to her account due to similar phone numbers.

Though Ms. Lee had online banking and PayNow accounts, she was not fond of using online services, and therefore requested her nephew to transfer the money to the man as requested.

On the same day, she noticed a reminder on her Android phone for an app called “Compass For Android,” which she did not remember downloading. She sought assistance to uninstall it promptly.

Two days later, her nephew discovered two unfamiliar apps on her phone and promptly removed them.

Shortly after, Ms. Lee discovered eight unauthorized transfers from her bank account, totaling S$199,996.

She acted swiftly, contacting her bank to freeze the account, and reported the incident to the police.

The victim receives call from imposter posing as “investigator from Woodlands Police Division”

To her surprise, a week later, she received a call from someone claiming to be an “investigator from Woodlands Police Division”, even though she remembered reporting the case at Ang Mo Kio Police Division.

The caller quickly dismissed her concerns, attributing it to the volume of cases, and transferred her call to the Woodlands Police Division.

The alleged investigator offered to help “unfreeze” her account and scheduled a meeting for the following day in Woodlands.

After hanging up the phone, Ms. Lee realized that the number used by the person matched the one used by the man who claimed to have mistakenly transferred money.

She promptly reported the incident again to the police.

Ms. Lee expressed her frustration, as over a month had passed since the incident, yet no significant progress had been made in the investigations by the police and the bank.

She provided the police with the imposter’s phone number and now hopes to recover the scammed S$200,000.

The Singapore Police Force confirmed receiving these two reports and stated that investigations are ongoing.

Government agency impersonation scams: 134 individuals fall Victim to deceptive tactics

Ms. Lee’s unfortunate experience is not an isolated incident. Singapore has previously witnessed numerous similar cases.

For instance, another Singaporean woman learned a costly lesson when she suffered a S$50,000 loss after falling victim to the ‘Musan King sales’ scam.

Additionally, a man lost S$6,000 in an online ‘bak chang’ (meat dumplings) scam, where he was lured by the promise of a cheap deal priced at only S$2.

On Monday (17 Jul), the Singapore Police Force issued a public alert regarding an ongoing and concerning trend of a scam variant involving the impersonation of government agencies.

Between 1 June and 12 July this year, at least 134 individuals have fallen victim to this scam, collectively losing at least $375,000.

In this particular scam, the victims receive unsolicited phone calls or in-app calls, such as WhatsApp video calls, allegedly from government agencies like the Singapore Police Force (SPF) or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The scammers falsely claim that there are issues with the victim’s bank accounts and request additional verification. To resolve these purported issues, the scammers trick the victims into providing sensitive banking and personal information, including banking credentials and One-Time Passwords (OTPs).

In some instances, victims may also be asked to display their identity cards, work permits, or bank cards during video calls with the fake “SPF” or “MOM” officers.

The Police to advise members of the public to adopt the following precautionary measures:

  1. ADD – ScamShield App and set security features (e.g., enable two-factor (2FA) or multifactor authentication for banks and set transaction limits on internet banking transactions, including PayNow/PayLah).
  2. CHECK – Before giving your banking credentials over the telephone or WhatsApp, check with authorised sources because the Police will never ask you for your banking credentials and OTP over the telephone or WhatsApp. Never share your banking credentials, including your OTPs with anyone over the phone.
  3. TELL – Report the number to WhatsApp for them to initiate in-app blocking. If you disclosed your banking details, report this to your bank immediately. Tell your friends about this scam so they do not fall for it.
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