Internet love scams on the rise, though overall crime rate falls 1% in 2017

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
The amount lost to Internet love scams increased from $24 million to $37 million in 2017. Getty Images file photo

Even as Singapore’s overall crime rate fell by 1 per cent last year, love cheats on the internet duped over 800 victims into parting with $37 million, an increase of more than half of the amount reported in 2016.

Also of concern last year was a 60.5 per cent rise to 207 cases of outrage of modesty (OM) on public transportations, and a 33.8 per cent increase to 107 OM cases at entertainment night spots, said the police at an annual crime briefing on Saturday morning (3 February).

Overall, OM cases increased by 22.2 per cent to 1,566 cases in 2017.

To counter these cases, the police will be stepping up patrols by Transcom officers at public transportation nodes, distributing outrage of modesty advisories during peak travel hours as well as installing surveillance cameras at public entertainment outlets as a form of deterrence.

Following a 10-year low in 2016, unlicensed moneylending-related (UML) harassment cases also registered an increase of 12.3 per cent to 3,806 cases in 2017, up from 3,388 in 2016.

Significantly, there was an increase of 33.8 per cent in harassment cases via electronic means, amounting to 2,783 cases in 2017. Conversely, there was a drop of 21.8 per cent in harassment cases involving damage to property, amounting to 1,023 cases in 2017.

Police said “relentless enforcement efforts” to disrupt the operations of illegal moneylending syndicates, “strong partnerships” with the community, and the introduction of more police cameras in the neighbourhoods have “forced the UML harassers to shift to non-damage and non-confrontational tactics”.

“The proliferation of the new communication platforms and high usage of mobile devices have made it easier for UML harassers to conduct their harassment via electronic means (via SMS and social media platforms) as well as target larger groups of people simultaneously,” said the police.

For instance, victims will receive threatening messages as well as photos and videos of paint on doors or vehicles.

Such moneylenders have also turned to dating or social networking sites such as OkCupid and Locanto to “recruit runners” to harass their debtors. In these cases, they would pose as females on such sites to look for male partners.

“The police will continue to work closely with relevant stakeholders such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority to make it harder for UML harassers to employ such tactics,” it added.

Singapore’s crime rates and areas of concern for 2017. (Graphic: Singapore Police Force)

Scams of concern

Although there was an 8.4 per cent drop in e-commerce cheating cases, the police stressed that they remain a concern due to the high number of cases reported.

The decrease can be largely attributed to increased publicity of such scams by the police – for instance, on social media platforms – before the school holidays and festive seasons as well as working closely with e-commerce platforms.

Separately, Internet love scams went up 29.9 per cent, from 635 in 2016 to a historical high of 825 in 2017, with the amount lost to such cases increasing by 54.2 per cent from 24 million to 37 million. Since 2008, such cases have increased year-on-year, with the highest increase of 144 per cent in 2014.

In 2017, the highest amount cheated in an online love scam was likewise a historical high of nearly $6 million.

(Graphic: SPF)

The China officials impersonation scams, first uncovered in 2016, saw a 62.9 per cent decline from 501 in 2016 to 186 cases in 2017, with the total amount cheated in 2017 at $12.5 million compared to 2016’s $23.6 million. These scams involved offenders posing as Chinese authorities to dupe victims into remitting money to accounts in China.

Similarly, credit-for-sex scams decreased by 46.3 per cent to 418 cases in 2017, from 778 cases in 2016.

“The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) has continued to work closely with partners such as the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, to identify and dismantle new criminal syndicates targetting the Chinese-speaking community in Singapore,” said the police.

To date, the police arrested 50 money mules connected to the China impersonation scams in Singapore, and of this, 31 have been charged in court and 17 have been convicted.

Two joint operations conducted by the CAD and the Commercial Crime Investigation Department of the Royal Malaysia Police in February and September 2017 saw 38 persons arrested in Singapore and Malaysia for their involvement in at least 140 Internet love scams reported in both countries.

“The police will continue to work closely with foreign law enforcement counterparts to crack down on overseas syndicates targeting Singaporeans,” police said.

(Graphic: SPF)

In 2017, the number of cases in two categories — violent or serious property crimes and theft and related crimes — fell to an all-time low since 1984, said the police.

The number of overall crime cases fell from 33,099 to 32,773, while the number of violent or serious property crimes fell from 249 in 2016 to 218 in 2017, a decrease of 12.4 per cent. Theft and related crimes fell from 14,122 in 2016 to 13,495 in 2017, a decrease of 4.4 per cent.

The police said the decline in thefts was thanks to “continuous crime prevention efforts”, including increased police presence at malls and crowded places during peak periods like the Great Singapore Sale and the year-end festive period.

“The police will continue to work closely with the retail industry to develop new crime prevention initiatives to curb shop theft,” it added.

(Graphic: SPF)

The decline in the number of motor vehicle and related thefts – a drop of 9.8 per cent to 998 cases in 2017 – was partly attributed to the police’s Vehicle On Watch (VOW) project. More than 9,000 vehicle owners with in-vehicle cameras spanning over 800 car parks have signed up for the VOW project to date, said the police.

Both housebreaking and related crimes – such as possession of housebreaking equipment and offensive weapons – and crimes against persons – including OM cases – saw, however, increases of 9.3 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

The police also added that there were 167 days free of robbery, housebreaking and snatch theft in 2017, up 31 days from 2016. In 2017, there were 71 cases of robbery, 161 cases of housebreaking and 52 cases of snatch theft – all three categories saw a drop of 26 per cent, 24.1 per cent and 17 per cent respectively compared to 2016.

“Both overall crime and overall crime rate have decreased for a second consecutive year in 2017. Overall crime rate stands at 584 cases per 100,000 population and Singapore continues to be one of the safest countries in the world today,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Investigations & Intelligence) and concurrent Director of the Criminal Investigation Department Tan Chye Hee.

(Graphic: SPF)

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