Singapore redoubles its efforts against financial crime

Written by Kapronasia || March 05 2024

Singapore has been battling a surge in financial crime since the coronavirus pandemic, with 2023 being notable as the city-state dealt with its largest ever money laundering case. The investigation is ongoing and thus far authorities have seized more than US$2.2 billion. However, more mundane types of financial crime continue to be a challenge for Singapore, notably online scams. In 2023, scams reported in Singapore rose roughly 47% to 46,563, the highest amount since the police began tracking this type of crime in 2016.

On the one hand, the total amount of money lost in scams fell slightly last year to $651.8 million from S$660.7 million in 2022, according to Singapore police. The police said that the slight decrease in losses is largely due to efforts by the authorities and the private sector, banks in particular, to intervene before scammers are able to bilk the full amount from victims.

One of the most common type of scams in Singapore involves scammers asking victims to perform certain tasks for a commission. Common tasks involved in these types of scams include liking social media posts, reviewing hotels, restaurants, or airlines, completing surveys, or rating mobile apps to improve their rankings in app stores. At some point in the process, scammers ask victims to transfer funds from their bank accounts, promising them higher earnings in the future. Then the scammers disappear after they have collected the money.

Phishing and investment scams also continue to be a problem. While the former decreased 16.3% in 2023, the latter rose almost 30%.

With that in mind, in October 2023, Singapore published a consultation paper that assigns relevant duties to both financial institutions and telecommunications firms to mitigate phishing scams and details financial damages to be paid out to affected victims. In a statement, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said that digitally-enabled scams involving phishing and malware in which victims either give away or have their banking credentials stolen, leading to unauthorized transactions, “are of gravest concern,” adding that “left unaddressed, such scam threats and ensuing losses can undermine public confidence in payments and digital banking.”

Increasing the security standards on mobile operating systems and mobile devices is one way that the threat from such scams can be reduced, but it is also important for banks to strengthen anti-malware controls, fraud surveillance, and detection capabilities. To that end, in Nov. 2023, DBS, OCBC and UOB introduced a Money Lock feature for customers to set aside a portion of funds in their bank accounts that cannot be transferred digitally. This limits the amount a customer may lose should their digital banking access be compromised.

On Feb. 29, MAS said in a statement that more than 61,000 Money Lock accounts have been set up thus far, with over S$5.4 billion of savings set aside in February 2024. Other major retail banks will introduce the Money Lock feature by mid-2024.