Friday, 15 August 2014

Big rise in online scams raises overall crime figures in the first six months of 2014

But housebreaking and loan-shark harassment cases see significant drop
By Joyce Lim and Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2014

OVERALL crime for the first half of the year rose for the first time since 2010, fuelled by an alarming upsurge in online scams - from cyber extortion to cases of cheating involving the purchase of goods on the Internet.

Cases of rape also went up by half, with the police putting this down to more girls under 14 having consensual sex with youth offenders. Regardless of whether there is consent, such acts are deemed statutory rape.

There was a total of around 15,200 crimes recorded from January to June, a jump of 1.4 per cent from the same period last year.

The increase came despite sizeable drops in other types of crime.

Housebreaking and related crimes hit a 10-year low, with cases falling by more than a third. A clampdown saw loan-sharking and related harassment cases fall by 31.6 per cent, from 4,729 cases to 3,235, and more will be done to bring this down further.

The National Crime Prevention Council is planning a follow-up education campaign to deter people from going to illegal moneylenders, after the first launched in late 2012 proved a success.

Police are also working with banks on a pilot scheme which will see anyone convicted of being involved with unlicensed moneylending barred from using ATM and Internet banking facilities.

Police yesterday highlighted the four key areas they want to tackle this year: cheating involving e-commerce, cyber extortion, serious hurt, which went up by 5.3 per cent, and rape.

Online cheating rocketed by more than four times to 504 cases - up from just 96 in the same period last year. This included a huge jump of 20 times in cases of people being duped into making multiple payments for Internet purchases. Around 300 cases involving $237,000 were reported for the first six months, up from 13 cases involving $28,000 in the same period last year. The scam typically involves buyers of smartphones and tablets being asked for more payments to solve delivery issues.

Cases of love scams, in which victims are persuaded to transfer money to foreigners they fell for online, rose from 22 in the first half of last year to 82. Over $3 million was cheated this time compared with $1.7 million before.

Men were the prime target for cyber extortion; women coax them into performing indecent acts on a Web cam, then threaten to post photos or videos online. This rose from 38 cases to 132.

Because many of these online cases involve crooks overseas, Assistant Commissioner of Police Melvin Yong, who leads its Public Affairs Department, said prevention through education was the best cure. "The challenge is to find a way to quickly spread information and alerts on scams so that we can prevent the next victim from falling prey. The best vaccine against online scams is to immunise our community through public awareness."

Mr Eugene Teo, senior manager of security response at IT security firm Symantec Singapore, said that more consumers have jumped on the online bandwagon while neglecting cyber security, making them attractive prey.

The main types of online scams here
The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2014


Criminals posing as sellers of electronic gadgets such as smartphones cheat victims by failing to deliver the goods purchased. They then ask for further payments on the pretext that delivery orders had been mixed up. Victims typically accede to the request for further payment but end up not receiving the items.

The payments by victims are also quickly transferred out of local bank accounts to overseas bank accounts which makes the tracing and return of funds much more difficult.


Similar to the multiple online purchase scam, but without the requests for additional payments.

Online sellers are cheated after receiving fake "Paypal" payment notification e-mails from scammers posing as buyers.

In these cases, scammers claiming to be from overseas place orders with an online seller. The scammers select "Paypal" as the payment option and send fictitious e-mails, supposedly from "Paypal", to notify the victims that payment has been made. This prompts the seller to send the items ordered to addresses overseas.

In addition, the scammers may send further e-mails supposedly from "Paypal" requesting "administrative" payments to be made via local bank account transfers or remitted to overseas accounts.

There were variations in some cases, where victims received fictitious e-mails from "Citibank" instead of "Paypal". The victims end up without payment for the items sent out.


This involves suspects who mostly claim to be from Britain, targeting women searching for love online through dating or social networks.

Once the suspect befriends the victim, he claims that he is coming to Singapore to ask for the victim's hand in marriage.

On the supposed day of arrival, the suspect calls the victim and claims he has been detained by Customs for carrying excess cash. The victim is asked to transfer money to secure his release.

In another variation, the suspect claims to be sending a parcel containing valuable items such as branded bags and watches. The suspect then asks the victim to transfer money to clear penalty charges imposed on the items. Very often, victims are asked to make several payments.


These typically involve female suspects attempting to extort money by threatening to post compromising photos or videos of victims, mostly males, following an online cybersex session during which victims are coaxed into undressing and performing indecent acts in front of a webcam. It is all recorded on video and the males are blackmailed thereafter. In most cases, the suspects are believed to be based overseas.

She met him online, sent him money, then never heard from him again
By Joyce Lim and Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2014

HIS good looks on his online profile persuaded her into accepting his friend request on Facebook last November. After a month of chatting online, Amy's newfound "British" friend wanted to send her gifts for Christmas.

"He showed me photographs of the gifts, which included an Apple iPad, a MacBook Pro and branded perfumes. They were mostly expensive things," said Amy (not her real name).

But the man also said he needed £2,000 (S$4,200) to help pay for the delivery company's administration fees. He was rushing to attend a seminar in Paris and did not have enough cash with him.

Amy, 25, who works in the hotel industry, later remitted $1,000 to the delivery company.

Her presents never arrived and she did not hear from the man, who called himself William Dominic Rachel, again.

Amy is one of a growing number of women to fall victim to online love scams.

From January to June this year, there were 82 such cases, involving $3.1 million.

In the same period last year, there were only 22 such cases.

Police said such scams are mostly targeted at women searching for love online through dating or social networks.

Amy told The Straits Times she had tried to verify the man's identity before she was cheated.

"I found the website of the company he said he was working for. I saw a photo of him giving a talk in a seminar. And so I believed him," she said.

What Amy did not know was that William Dominic Rachel could have lifted the photo from the company's page and crafted a fake Facebook profile for himself.

Apart from such love scams, other Internet crimes on the rise include the "multiple payment online purchase scam" and "PayPal e-mail scam".

In their effort to combat cybercrimes, police have expanded their outreach efforts to digital advertorials, articles and even videos. These are posted on various online networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other popular websites.

A recent video put up by the Punggol Neighbourhood Police Centre features a man who exposes his private parts online to someone he believes is a woman. But the person on the other side of the connection was revealed to be a man, who wanted to blackmail the victim.

Police have also created a microsite to educate the public on various types of scams.

Co-chairman of the Cyber Security Awareness Alliance in Singapore, Ms Shirley Wong, is not surprised that criminals are moving online, especially given the prevalence of social media users.

"It's easy to hide behind online personas, and harder to trace. People have to be more wary and alert of online offers, and be more suspicious especially when conducting transactions or procuring services online," she said.

The police said the public should do business with online companies that have an online track record, and not be lured by discounts. They should never give their bank account information, credit card numbers and personal details to anyone who they do not know or have not checked out.

And while it is good to check out online reviews of an online seller, the lack of complaints is no guarantee, given the rate at which fraudsters can set up new identities.

Jump in rape cases involving girls under 14
Experts point to changing attitudes on sex and parents' awareness of law
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2014

CHANGING attitudes towards sex and increasing parental awareness of statutory rape laws could be reasons the number of rape cases in Singapore has jumped by almost half, say experts.

Police revealed yesterday that 91 rape cases were reported in the first six months of this year - 30 more than the 61 over the same period last year. There were 120 reported rape cases in the whole of last year, marking a gradual slide over recent years, until now.

Of the 91 newer cases, 40 involved girls under the age of 14. From January to June last year, there were just 23 such reports.

It is illegal to have sex with a person under the age of 16, even if it is consensual. If the minor is a girl below 14, the offence is considered statutory rape, with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine or caning.

According to the police's report yesterday, the rise in reported rape cases is largely attributed to an increase in the number of statutory rape cases involving female minors under 14 years of age who had consensual sex.

Most of the culprits were youth offenders and known to the victims, added the report. It also highlighted the important role schools, parents and the community have in educating young people against underage sex.

The increase in rape figures is not surprising, given the growing promiscuity among young people here, said Singapore Children's Society's senior director of youth services, Dr Carol Balhetchet.

"Anecdotally we have seen a rise in more consensual sex among teenagers. They don't see it as such a big deal," said the clinical psychologist. "But a lot more parents are aware this is a crime and more are also going to the police to make reports."

The mother of three said the statistics were worrying as "they reflect on the laissez-faire attitudes today with regard to something I feel is very important to the future lives of our young".

"Having casual sexual relationships can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, getting pregnant, abortions... The most important thing parents can do is to have open conversations and good relationships with their children, so they can share their concerns and values."

The Ministry of Education (MOE), when queried, said abstinence is promoted as the best protection for teenagers in schools.

An MOE spokesman told The Straits Times that students are also taught the possible consequences of sexual activity, for instance, that premarital and casual sex have undesirable risks. They are also given information on the law, said the spokesman.

How much of the increase in rape cases is due to growing frequency of rape or more people willing to go to the police is hard to verify, said Ms Jolene Tan, the programmes and communications senior manager of Aware.

The gender equality advocacy group runs a drop-in centre for female victims of sexual assault.

"Our experience at the centre is consistent with the global trend - that rape and other sexual offences are significantly under- reported," said Ms Tan. "This means there is plenty of scope for the figures to increase through increased reporting alone."

She also said that there should be a clear distinction made between consensual cases involving sexual exploration between peers who are very close in age, and cases where there is no consent.

"We must shift the focus away from judging people's choices about their bodies, and instead encourage everyone involved in sexual activity to take proactive steps to ensure they have consent from their partners."

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