Lifestyle

5 Online Scams in Singapore – How Not To Become a Victim

You may be wondering, "What are some online scams used by Internet criminals? And more importantly, how can you avoid such online scams?

We all think we won’t be so unlucky to fall prey to the various 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, including the Internet explosion, have broadened the reach of online scammers. Internet scammers don’t even have to be based in Singapore to carry out their scams. In fact, local intelligence sources have identified some cyber scammers as belonging to overseas syndicates comprising African gangs. 

Furthermore, it is now popular for scammers to use sophisticated tools to conceal their identity and conduct their online scams. In many cases, they are able to get away scot-free as their methods are virtually untraceable. This makes internet scams attractive money-making opportunities for cyber criminals and explains why they frequently carry out cyber-attacks and scams worldwide, including on Singaporeans. 

With internet scams on the rise, it is important to be aware of the online scams in Singapore. This allows you can quickly identify scams and take the necessary remedial actions to stop the cyber scammers in their tracks. 

Without further ado, let’s dive into the popular internet scams in Singapore that cyber criminals use against hapless Singaporeans.

1. Online Purchase Scam in Singapore

With the surge in popularity of various e-commerce platforms, the online purchase scam has become a prevalent online scam in Singapore.

How Does the Online Purchase Scam Work?

Scammers typically prey on Singaporeans’ kiasu-ness to carry out this cyber scam. In other words, these tricksters exploit your desire for unbelievably cheap deals for items.

The following is the scammers’ modus operandi. They list their products on platforms such as Carousell, usually at highly discounted prices. In fact, they set the prices 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 would typically request for you to transfer a deposit for the product to him or her. If you decide to transfer your money to them online without doing your due diligence, then you’re at a high risk of falling prey to their cyber scam. Once these fraudsters receive funds from you, they disappear and become completely uncontactable.

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 spent your money almost immediately after receiving it. Thus, even if the scammer is in Singapore and the police are able to apprehend the suspect, there is no guarantee that you will get your money back.

Measures by E-Commerce Sites May Be Insufficient To Prevent Popular Internet Scams

Various shopping websites have put in place safeguards to protect you as the consumer against the different online scams in Singapore. For instance, to sell items on Lazada or Amazon, these e-commerce companies require certain documents such as company incorporation or personal identification documents to support their application as a seller. This makes it tougher for internet scammers to mask their identity and potentially protects the buyer from cyber crime. 

However, not all e-commerce sites have stringent controls. Platforms such as Carousell only need key information such as your email address and telephone number to create a seller account. There is actually no good way of knowing who is behind the account. Some online scammers scam their victims on such platforms, with the knowledge that they can hide behind a mask of anonymity.

Protecting Yourself Against Such Internet Scams in Singapore

For platforms such as Carousell, you can always look for other ways to verify or assess the credibility of the seller. For example, you can examine 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 in Their Fraudulent Ways

Online scammers have found creative ways of scamming Singaporeans. 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 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 clean record as a seller. They may even go so far as to claim that they can be trusted and will not risk jeopardising their reviews. Unbeknownst to the buyer, the account wasn’t theirs to begin with.

At the end of the day, if you don’t have a good feeling about a transaction, you should request that the seller complete the sale in person. Typically, scammers who do not wish to reveal their real identity, would decline to meet face-to-face.

2. Internet Phishing Scams in Singapore

Other 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 in Singapore, the scammers may try any form of electronic communications such as email 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 can occur.

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. This is in itself a huge red flag. Other times, you may be told to fill in some survey details via email or SMS to redeem a prize. In most phishing cases, you may then be asked to input your personal and financial information into a web page.

When you receive such calls, emails or messages, you shouldn’t succumb to your greed. Instead, try to think about it rationally.

What are the chances of someone give you an expensive laptop for free upon completing a simple survey? Why would you need to put in your confidential CVV credit card code to redeem your lucky draw prize?

When in doubt, you should always err on the side of caution and not open internet links in emails that look spammy. You should also be very wary when people (other than your professional advisors) ask for your financial details.

Posing as Authorities or Companies

As part of online phishing scams, some scammers portray themselves as an authority or trusted figure. For instance, internet 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 phishing using deception.

For instance, you may receive a message from someone claiming to be a government institution. The weblinks provided in their messages actually look extremely authentic. This is because internet scammers are able to copy the logo and brand of the organisation he or she is supposedly from. 

When you actually key in your personal details into the links provided, you may find that your details are used to hack into your bank accounts or even circulated on the dark web.

Opportunistic Online Scammers

Scammers will also make use of recent cyber news to carry out their internet scams.

Take for example the data breach of SingHealth’s patients due to a cyberattack in 2018. Once the news broke, scammers grabbed the opportunity to impersonate staff from SingHealth. They started calling many Singaporeans, asking for their personal and financial information. As a result, many Singaporeans were duped into providing their details. In this case, online scammers took advantage of the anxiety and fear of Singaporeans to phish for their financial information.

The Warning Signs of Online Scams in Singapore

So how can you distinguish between popular cyber scams in Singapore and legitimate requests from companies or public authorities?

Requests for Financial Information from Government Entities Are Rare

If you are dealing with government entities, they will rarely ask for your financial information. Even if institutions like IRAS do, they 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. Being aware of this may potentially prevent you from falling victim to cyber crime by internet online scammers.

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 cyber scam 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”.

Grammatical Errors

Additionally, you should look out for any glaring grammatical errors or typos.

In many cases, these online scammers originate from overseas and may not have English as their primary written language. As such, their emails or internet 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 email or call you received was indeed legitimate.

3. Online Love Scams in Singapore

Due to advances in technology, internet love scams are becoming increasingly prevalent. This cyber scam has cemented its position as one type of online scam in Singapore.

A typical scenario plays out like this:

You befriend a young and good-looking person online. Both of you start messaging and you start developing romantic feelings towards this “individual”.

When it’s clear that you’ve fallen for them, that’s when they strike.

They claim that 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 exact love scam and ended up parting with S$8,000 to “fund the medical treatment of a friend’s child”.

In most cases, you won’t be able to recover your money. If you transfer the money via Western Union to these internet 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. This method of transfer is usually used in cyber scams in Singapore, so be careful when someone requests such a transfer!

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, this may be a red flag.

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 cyber criminal gang taking turns to talk to you and set you up for the internet love scam.

You can also do a reverse google image search on photos of you have of your “friend”. 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 unravel this love scam.

4. iTunes Sex Online Scam in Singapore

This is an online scam that has been employed by scammers recently. In such cases, cyber criminals target male victims looking for love. In these cases, online scammers pose as a beautiful lady via online dating sites such as Tinder, OkCupid or social networking sites such as WeChat.

The internet scammer then entices the victim by sharing revealing photos of herself. She may subsequently proposition the victim to pay for her sexual services in advance.

And their popular choice of payment? The iTunes gift card.

Upon getting the gift card redemption codes from the victim over the phone, the ”lady” becomes uncontactable.

Try not to let your emotions or hormones cloud your better judgement. It’s important to be very sceptical and critical when strangers offer sexual services.

Why Scammers Use This Method for Online Scams

They employ this online scam 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 scammers can 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 can’t tell who is hiding behind the screen or the online persona.

5. Impersonation Online Scam in Singapore

Another emerging online scam in Singapore is the impersonation internet scam. In this online scam, scammers may hack into your friend’s social media or internet 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.

But 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 that are 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.

Companies are Not Immune From Internet Scams Online

Even companies are not spared from the impersonation scam.

Internet 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 an online 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.

Conclusion

As Singaporeans, we are lucky to live in a country where crime rates are relatively low. However, we should always remain vigilant.

Online cyber criminals will do everything they can to swindle you of your money. They will go to extreme lengths to make you fall for the various online scams in Singapore.

Thus, whether you’re doing online shopping or swiping on your favourite dating app, you should always have the above 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 internet scams in the future.

Also, check out these additional lifestyle tips in Singapore for everyday living.

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