Monday 25 November 2013

'Money mule' crimes on the rise in S'pore

133 cases worth $15.5m investigated in first nine months
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

MORE Singaporeans and residents have been involved in moving illegal money in and out of Singapore, police have said.

Termed "money mules", they are recruited by fraudsters. They receive stolen money in their bank accounts, and transfer it to another party.

The turnaround can happen within the same day.

In the first nine months of the year, the police investigated 133 cases of such transactions worth $15.5 million.

The number of cases is already 43 per cent higher than the figure for the whole of last year, when there were 93 similar cases involving up to $24.6 million of illegal funds.

Out of these 226 cases, 32 money mules have been charged, of whom 17 have been convicted.

The data was released yesterday at a briefing held by the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), the Singapore Police Force and the National Crime Prevention Council.

The fraudsters start their operations by hacking into the e-mail accounts of possible victims abroad.

Then, using the hacked account, they send an e-mail instruction to the victim's bank asking that a sum of money be transferred to an account in Singapore.

Meanwhile, the fraudsters befriend people in Singapore, who will eventually act as their "mules" and accept the stolen money.

One common tactic used is to befriend Singaporeans through social networking sites for an average of three to six months, said the police.

The mule is then asked to accept the overseas funds and deliver the money to someone else via cash or electronic transfer through money remittance services or e-banking.

The sums can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $500,000 per transaction, said the police.

Sometimes, the mule is offered payment akin to a commission for assisting in the transfer.

The money mules are a diverse group. They might be security guards, businessmen, managers and even part-time lecturers.

Singapore is one of the target locations for crimes of this nature because of its high Internet penetration rate, the accessibility of banks, the ease of opening bank accounts and the high proficiency in English, the police said.

Data logs from e-mails and text messages between fraudsters and mules show that the two parties communicate in English, said Mr Ian Wong, deputy director at the Commercial Affairs Department.

He also said syndicates are likely to be behind these crimes because of the highly organised nature.

Banks have been paying more attention to such crimes, said ABS director Ong-Ang Ai Boon.

When a customer receives a spike in deposits which is unusual for his credit history, a bank can file a report with the police and hold the money for a few days, said ABS representative Richard Moore.

Thanks to greater cooperation from the various stakeholders in clamping down on money mules, the police have achieved a higher rate of recovering the money.

In the first nine months, the police were able to seize and recover 20 per cent of the stolen funds, up from 11 per cent over the whole of last year.

The police are urging the public not to disclose personal particulars and bank account details to unknown persons.

People who are suspected of acquiring, possessing, using, concealing or transferring benefits of criminal conduct can be charged under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act. If convicted, they face a fine of up to $500,000 and/or a jail term of up to seven years.

No comments:

Post a Comment