Singapore steps up fight against scams, may allow public to block international calls

Singapore steps up fight against scams, may allow public to block international calls

SINGAPORE — The Singapore public will soon have new anti-scam measures to protect themselves, such as blocking international calls and SMSes, verifying calls from government officials, and locking up a designated sum in their bank accounts.

These measures were raised by Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling in Parliament on Monday (27 February), during her ministry’s Committee of Supply budget debate.

She indicated that the authorities are bolstering defences and combating scams with greater vigour, but with more than 31,700 cases and $660 million reported to have been lost to scams last year, Singapore needs the whole community to take action to ensure they are protected from scams.

“No defence is impenetrable. Some scams will succeed. For example, investment scams and job scams, which contributed to the bulk of monies lost to scams in Singapore, are very hard to tackle,” Sun said in Parliament.

“We have thus strengthened our enforcement capabilities to minimise the number of victims and amounts lost to scammers.”

New defensive anti-scam measures that are being examined include giving the public the option to block international calls and SMSes, and to verify calls from government officials. More details will be released later.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Association of Banks are also examining a solution for bank customers to lock up a designated sum in their accounts.

“This reduces the amount that could potentially be lost to scams via digital transfers,” Sun explained.

Singapore’s fight against scammers 

Sun also elaborated on anti-scam measures that have been taken in the past year, including blocking scam calls, SMSes, listings and websites, as well as securing government and banking services.

Last year, over 6,500 mobile lines used to perpetuate scams were terminated through collaboration between the police, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and telecommunications companies.

A collaboration between the policem social media companies and e-commerce marketplaces also resulted in the removal of more than 3,100 accounts and advertisements suspected of being part of scams.

The police also identified and blocked about 20,000 scam websites using analytic tools.

IMDA recently mandated that SMS Sender ID registration be required, with filters implemented for detecting potential scam SMSes and flagging unregistered senders as “likely-scams”. Sun confirmed that all government agencies are onboarded to the registry.

MAS and ABS have implemented a variety of anti-scam measures in the past year. This includes a cooling-off period for new digital tokens, removing clickable links from official messages, and an emergency kill switch that allows users to suspend their accounts swiftly if they are compromised.

The need for discerning and vigilant citizens

To expand public education outreach on scams, Sun said the Scam Public Education Office will be launched this year.

She also encouraged the public to download and use the ScamShield app, which will soon include a WhatsApp chatbot for reporting scams.

“By playing your part in reporting scam calls, SMSes, and WhatsApp messages, you protect others by enabling the police to detect scam messages and fraudulent WhatsApp accounts much more quickly and put them on a blacklist,” she said.

As scams constantly evolve, Sun said that the best defence is a vigilant and discerning public, and Singapore needs to move beyond awareness to mobilise citizens to take action against scams.

Stricter actions against money mules and scammers

A total of 25 island-wide anti-scam enforcement operations were conducted by the police’s Anti-Scam Command last year, as they investigated over 8,000 money mules and scammers.

The police worked with their foreign counterparts to take down 13 syndicates, and arrested more than 70 people overseas who were accountable for more than 280 cases in 2022.

Sun said that the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act will be amended to make money mules criminally liable.

MHA is also working with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office on legislative amendments to the Penal Code to curb scammers from abusing and using SingPass credentials.

“While the government will step up measures to protect us against scams, we need to remain alert and ready to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” she concluded.

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