We all think we won’t be so unlucky to fall prey to the common online scams in Singapore.
After all, Singapore is such a safe country right?
Not really. In fact, there has been a huge spike in online crime rates in recent years.
Technological advances have also equipped scammers with an extensive reach. Scammers don’t even have to be based locally to perpetuate the common online scams in Singapore. In fact, intelligence sources have identified some culprits as belonging to overseas syndicates comprising African gangs.
Furthermore, scammers are employing increasingly sophisticated tools to conceal their identity and carry out their scams. In many cases, they are able to get away scot free as their methods are untraceable.
So what can we do to prevent becoming a victim of online scams in Singapore?
The first step is to becoming aware of the common online scams in Singapore. This allows you can quickly identify scams for what they are as and when they occur. You can then take the necessary remedial actions such as cutting all contact with the scammer.
Having said that, let’s dive into the latest online scams in Singapore that Singaporeans commonly fall for.
1. Online Purchase Scam in Singapore
With the surge in popularity of online shopping channels, the online purchase scam has become a common online scam in Singapore.
How Does the Online Purchase Scam Work?
Scammers prey on Singaporeans’ kiasu-ness to carry out the online purchase scam. In other words, these tricksters exploit your desire for unbelievably cheap deals for items.
They list their products on platforms such as Carousell, usually at highly discounted prices. In fact, these prices are sometimes set at a level that is too good to be true. For instance, the scammer may offer you the latest model of the iPhone in brand new condition for less than half of its market value.
Then, the scammer will usually request for you to transfer the deposit for the product to him / her. Once they receive the funds from you, these rogue sellers disappear and become unresponsive in the chats.
By the time you realise the scam and report this to the police, it may be too late. In many cases, the scammer would have used the money they received almost immediately. Thus, even if the police is able to apprehend the suspect by tracing your funds into the culprit’s bank account, there is no guarantee that you will get your money back.
Protecting Yourself Against the Online Purchase Scam in Singapore
Various shopping platforms have put in place safeguards to protect you as the consumer against common online scams in Singapore. For instance, to sell items on Lazada or Amazon, you have to furnish your company incorporation documents or personal identification documents in your application. This ensures that buyers are not dealing with unverified and possibly fraudulent sellers.
However, for platforms such as Carousell, the information required to set up an account is minimal. You just need to provide your email address and possibly your telephone number. Other than that, the seller’s identity is more or less unknown. Scammers thus find it easy to set up an account on such platforms and start scamming unwitting buyers.
For Carousell, you can look to other ways to verify or assess the credibility of the seller.
You can examine at the quantity and quality of reviews of the seller. If there are multiple buyers leaving negative feedback, there is a potential that this seller is not very reliable and may be dishonest.
In addition, you should be more cautious when dealing with sellers who do not have any past reviews without any track record. In such cases, you should seek to meet up with the seller at a public location to complete the deal. You should only hand over the money upon receipt of the product.
Criminals are Getting Smarter for Online Scams
Online scammers have found creative ways of successfully conducting common online scams in Singapore.
For instance, scammers have been known to buy out well-established Carousell accounts or forcibly take control of them through hacking.
This allows scammers to leverage on the huge followings and positive reviews of these accounts to make fraudulent sales. They may even be able to persuade you to part with a bigger deposit on the basis of their stellar seller history. They may claim that they can be trusted and will not risk “jeopardising their reviews”, when in fact, the account wasn’t theirs to begin with.
When you don’t have a good feeling about a transaction or want to play it safe, the best way to complete the sale is face-to-face and in person.
If not, you may end up getting scammed, just like in the video below:
2. Online Phishing Scams in Singapore
Other common online scams in Singapore include phishing scams. For these scams, scammers try to trick you into providing your financial information such as your credit card details. Once they have your credit card number, expiration date and CVV code, they may then use your information to make online purchases.
For phishing scams, the scammers may try any form of electronic communications to contact you. This includes calling you on your phone or message you via email and other social networking sites and apps.
Here are the various ways that phishing scams go down.
The Lucky Draw You Never Signed Up For
In some cases, you will be told that you have won a lucky draw or contest, which you may not even have signed up for. Other times, you may be told to fill in some survey details to redeem a prize. This is in itself a huge red flag. Alarmingly, you may be then asked to input your personal and financial information into a web page.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
When you receive such calls or messages, you shouldn’t succumb to your greed. Instead, try to think about it rationally.
Why would someone give you a laptop worth thousands for free upon completing a simple survey? Why would you need to put in your CVV confidential credit card code to redeem your lucky draw prize?
When in doubt, you should always err on the side of caution and not click on links that look spammy. You should also be very wary when other people ask for your financial details.
Posing as Authorities or Companies
As part of phishing scams, some scammers portray themselves as an authority figure or a trustworthy entity. For instance, scammers may purport to be from government institutions so as to phish personal information from you. Scammers may also claim to be from financial institutions such as banks, credit card issuers or other service providers.
The worst part?
These scammers have mastered the art of deception.
Say, for instance, you receive a message from a scammer pretending to be a government institution. The weblinks provided in their messages actually look extremely authentic. This is because scammers are able to copy the logo and brand of the organisation it purports to represent.
Scammers will also make use of recent news to carry out their scams. Take for example the data breach of SingHealth’s patients from a cyberattack in 2018. Once the news broke, scammers started to pose as staff from SingHealth.
They started calling Singaporeans, asking for their personal and financial information. In this case, scammers took advantage of the anxiety and fear of Singaporeans to phish for their financial information.
The Warning Signs of Common Online Scams in Singapore
So how can you distinguish between common online scams in Singapore and legitimate requests from the authorities or companies?
Requests for Financial Information
If you are dealing with government entities, they will rarely ask for your financial information. Even if they do, institutions such as IRAS will not ask you to transfer money to an unofficial bank account. For internet banking, there would instead be a drop-down option to add the official IRAS account as a payee.
Inconsistent Email Address and Website Domain Names
A telltale sign of an online scam is whether the email address or web page you are accessing appears different from the official email address or website. This applies to unsolicited emails or messages from companies as well.
In a case involving online shopping platform qoo10, users were promised a cash reward for completing a survey. The domain name of the scam email ended with “qoo100.sg” whereas Qoo10’s official Singapore email domain ends with “qoo10.sg”.
Additionally, you should look out for any glaring grammatical errors or typos.
In many cases, these scammers originate from overseas and may not have English as their primary written language. As such, their emails or web page may be riddled with obvious errors. When you see this, you should avoid entering any sensitive information on the web fields provided.
In fact, when you’re in doubt, you should always call up the official telephone number of the relevant organisation. Then you would be able to clarify whether the message or call you received was indeed legitimate.
3. Online Love Scams in Singapore
Due to advances in technology, love scams are becoming increasingly prevalent. This has cemented its position as one of the common online scams in Singapore.
A typical scenario plays out like this:
You befriend a young and good-looking person online. Both you start messaging. You develop trust and feelings for the person over time.
Then, they make a desperate plea for money.
They have gotten into an accident, contracted an illness or gotten into some trouble with the authorities. What’s more, they have photographs to show for it. They urgently need your money to get out of their personal troubles.
An elderly woman in Singapore fell for this love scam and ended up parting S$8,000 to the man “fund the medical treatment of his friend’s child”.
In most cases, you can’t trace the money.
If you transfer the money via Western Union to these scammers, they can collect the funds internationally at any Western Union office. They don’t have to provide much details other than maybe the transaction ID or their name to retrieve the cash. Once they’ve gotten ahold of your money, your money is as good as gone and you cannot reverse the payment.
Precautions You Can Take
A precautionary measure you can take is to try asking to take the conversation with the person offline. Try to meet up with the person in real life. If the person you meet online is very reluctant to meet in person despite being very friendly online, alarm bells should start to ring.
In addition, notice if the person’s writing style changes over time. If it does, there is a possibility that the “person” is not actually one individual. It could, in fact, be multiple people from a criminal syndicate taking turns to talk to you and set you up for the love scam.
You can also do a reverse google image search on online photos of these people. Often, the scammers create their profile using photographs of people they find online. Thus, the reverse image search may reveal the true identity of the person in the photos and uncover the love scam.
4. iTunes Sex Online Scam in Singapore
This is a scam that has been employed by scammers of late, usually targeted at male victims. Frequently, the male victim comes into contact with a beautiful lady via online dating sites such as Tinder, OkCupid or social networking sites such as WeChat.
The lady will entice the victim by providing revealing photos of herself. She will then proposition the victim to pay for her sexual services in advance.
And the payment method?
The iTunes gift card.
However, once the victim sends over the redemption codes for the gift cards over the phone, the lady becomes uncontactable.
These ladies are actually scammers. In fact, they may not even be girls. They could just be unscrupulous men preying on the lust of other men to make a quick buck.
Why Scammers Use This Method for Online Scams
They use this method for two simple reasons. Firstly, iTunes gift cards are readily available. In fact, they can be easily found in convenience stores such as 7-11s and other electronic retailers. Additionally, it is untraceable. Once you send over the redemption codes for the gift cards over the phone, the funds would be disbursed almost immediately. In other cases, the scammers monetise the gift card codes by reselling them at a discount online.
Thus, you should be wary about providing the numbers on the back of the iTunes gift card to someone you do not know. In general, you should be cautious about making payments to someone you have not met in real life.
You simply don’t know who is hiding behind the screen or the online persona.
5. Impersonation Online Scam in Singapore
Another emerging common online scam in Singapore is the impersonation scam. In this scam, scammers may hack into your friend’s social media or accounts and assume their identity. Then, posing as your friend, they may ask to borrow some money from you. Unsuspectingly and unfortunately, you oblige, thinking that your friend would pay you back.
How do scammers hack into your social media accounts?
One way is through WhatsApp. Scammers will message you to ask you for the verification codes to your WhatsApp account, which are usually sent via SMS. If you do provide them with the code, the scammer will then sign in into your account, lock you out of your account and start contacting your friends.
Scammers then proceed to use your compromised account to trick your contacts into buying gift cards, and then sending over the redemption codes for those cards.
Companies are Not Immune
Even companies are not spared from the impersonation scam.
Scammers can hack into the email accounts of suppliers of your company. When the time for payment arises, they may impersonate your supplier and request for payment of goods. In an impersonation scam involving a local company, the general manager of the company transferred approximately S$163,000 to a scammer impersonating his supplier.
Safeguards to Take for Online Scams in Singapore
If you receive a suspicious text from a friend that is out of character, do not respond to that text. Instead, message that friend on a separate messaging tool or call them to check.
For companies, staff should call the telephone number of their counterparts to confirm the payment details. The staff should not disburse any money if they are in any doubt as to the legitimacy of the supplier or counterpart.
As Singaporeans, we are fortunate to live in a country where crime rates are relatively low. However, we should always remain vigilant.
Online criminals will do everything they can to swindle you of your money. They will go to extreme lengths to make you fall for the common online scams in Singapore in 2019.
Thus, whether you’re doing online shopping or swiping on your favourite dating app, you should always have the above common online scams in Singapore at the back of your mind. Doing this will make you more cautious, thereby making it much harder for you to fall prey to such online scams in the future.