80% of e-commerce scams in first half of 2018 took place on Carousell platform: police

The Carousell app. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

The first half of this year saw the police investigating 1,277 e-commerce scam cases, a 58 per cent spike from the same period the year before.

Of these cases, 80 per cent took place on online marketplace Carousell, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in its mid-year crime statistics report released on Thursday (23 August).

These scams commonly involved electronic items as well as tickets to events and public attractions, particularly Universal Studios Singapore, said the SPF.

The total amount cheated through e-commerce scams during the first half of this year also increased by 43.1 per cent to $930,000, up from about $650,000 over the same period last year. The largest amount cheated in a single case from January to June this year was $50,000.

With more Singaporeans going online, this has “likely contributed to the increase in commercial crime cases”, said the SPF in its report, which also listed sharp increases in the number of loan and “China officials” impersonation scams.

“A significant proportion of online commercial crimes are committed remotely by foreign syndicates that are hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet,” it added, noting that online crimes are particularly difficult to solve given the Web’s borderless nature.

Two types of victims

During a press briefing at the police headquarters on Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Stanley Qiu explained that foreign syndicates first recruit bank account holders here in order to use their accounts to facilitate their scam transactions.

Often recruited through job advertisements posted online, these account holders are promised compensation in exchange for the use of their bank accounts. With access to these accounts, the scammers then lure buyers with postings offering attractive prices on items such as electronic goods or concert tickets.

This modus operandi makes for challenging police work as investigators are left with only a bank account number to work with when handling such scam cases, said Qiu, who heads the Commercial Crime Squad at Bedok Police Division.

He added that when apprehended, many of these account holders also claim to be unaware that their bank accounts were being used for illicit purposes.

“We want to highlight that it is a serious offence to allow others to use your bank account to receive criminal proceeds. Members of the public should think twice before helping strangers receive and transfer funds for a commission,” said Qiu.

Nudging Carousell users to secure payment platform

In response to Yahoo News Singapore’s queries, a Carousell spokesperson said that 99.9 per cent of the transactions that take place on its platform – which has seen more than 158 million listings and over 54 million items sold globally – are fraud-free.

The spokesperson added that the service’s fraud incidence rate has remained relatively constant over the first half of this year, although it has seen a gradual year-on-year decline.

Along with providing the authorities information on scam trends on its platform and assisting in investigations, Carousell has also worked with the police on creating awareness and encouraging users to use the company’s new CarouPay service.

Launched in June, CarouPay is an escrow service for more secure transactions between buyers and sellers on the Carousell platform by, among other things, transferring a buyer’s funds to a seller only once the latter has confirmed that the item has been received.

“We have been monitoring CarouPay transactions closely since launch. We have not seen any fraudulent transactions to date.

“Most of the scams and disputes take place when users take the transaction and communication off our platform,” said the spokesperson.

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