477 cases of PayNow phishing scams in 2021, victims lost $3,400 each: Tharman

Hand of a man using laptop computer for hacking or steal data at night in office. (Getty Images file photo)
In the first half of 2022, there were 133 cases with a median loss of S$1,200. (Getty Images file photo)

SINGAPORE — There were 477 cases of bank-rated phishing scams involving PayNow transactions last year, with victims losing some $3,400 each, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Tuesday (4 October).

In the first half of this year, there were 133 such scams with a median loss of $1,200, said the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in a written parliamentary reply to Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC Dr Tan Wu Meng.

These unauthorised transactions were perpetrated by scammers who had deceived bank customers into giving them their digital banking credentials, said Tharman, adding that the recovery rate for unauthorised PayNow transactions is unavailable.

The two rounds of anti-scam measures announced by MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore in January and June have strengthened safeguards against unauthorised banking transactions, including those via PayNow, according to Tharman.

For instance, the lower default transaction limit for PayNow can be set at $5,000 or lower, with the default transaction notification threshold set at $100 or lower.

"Banks have also been adapting their anti-scam defences in response to new attack patterns, for instance, by temporarily lowering the PayNow limit to ward off attacks that may be directed at PayNow users," said Tharman.

Shanmugam on PayNow scams

Separately, Hougang MP Dennis Tan asked a parliamentary question on the steps taken by police in the event of scams carried out via PayNow.

In his reply, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said when police investigate reports of scams, they will trace the fund flows and swiftly freeze bank accounts suspected to be linked to scammers.

Further transfers of money, including via PayNow, will be disabled for frozen bank accounts, he added.

The freezing of bank accounts at the Anti-Scam Centre involves bank staff who are co-located with police. Since July, DBS, OCBC, UOB, Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC, and CIMB have co-located their staff at the Centre, Shanmugam said.

The total amount lost to the top 10 scam types, including phishing scams, in Singapore surged 60 per cent to $227.8 million in the first half of 2022, from $142.5 million in the same period last year, according to mid-year crime statistics released by the police.

Job scams, phishing scams, e-commerce scams, and investment scams comprised 74.5 per cent of the top 10 scam types reported in the first half. Overall, the number of cases from the top 10 scam types almost doubled to 13,181 from 6,797 over the same period last year.

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