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Phishing scams in Singapore rose to 5,020 cases in 2021 from 16 in 2017: Desmond Tan

Minister of State of Home Affairs Desmond Tan delivering a Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 15 February 2022. (SCREENSHOT: Ministry of Communications and Information/YouTube)
Minister of State of Home Affairs Desmond Tan delivering a Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 15 February 2022. (SCREENSHOT: Ministry of Communications and Information/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — The number of phishing scams in Singapore jumped from 16 cases in 2017 to 5,020 last year, said Minister of State of Home Affairs Desmond Tan in Parliament on Tuesday (15 February).

Overall, there were 23,931 cases of scams reported in 2021, a four-fold jump from 5,147 cases in 2017, Tan added.

Tan was delivering the Ministerial Statement on behalf of the Home Affairs Minister on strengthening enforcement and publication education in the aftermath of the OCBC phishing scam.

A total of $13.7 million was lost in scams involving SMSes impersonating OCBC Bank, and affected 790 customers, which started amid the year-end festive period last year. Following the scams, banks in Singapore implemented additional measures to bolster the security of digital banking, included removing clickable links in emails or SMS sent by them.

As at 13 February, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) had frozen 121 local bank accounts and recovered about $2 million, Tan told the House. In addition, about $2.2 million of victims’ funds have been traced to 89 overseas bank accounts. Based on SPF’s preliminary investigations, at least 107 local and 171 overseas internet protocol (IP) addresses were linked to the unauthorised access of the victims’ internet banking accounts. Many of the scam websites used in the phishing scam were hosted by web-hosting companies that are based overseas.

SPF has commenced investigations into the local IP addresses linked to the scam and owners of the local money mule accounts. It is also working with the Interpol and foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate the beneficiaries of the funds transferred overseas and the hosts of the scams’ websites, Tan said. “As investigations are right now ongoing, we are not able to divulge any more information at this moment.”

Tan also highlighted the statistics for phishing scams involving SMS impersonating banks in Singapore.

The number of such scams jumped from zero case in 2017 to 91 in 2018, 57 in 2019, 149 in 2020, and 1021 in 2021 in view of the OCBC phishing scams. The OCBC phishing scams alone accounted for 790 customers in the two months from December to January 2022, by far the largest phishing scam involving spoofed SMSes.

“The use of a combination of highly orchestrated tactics involving spoofed SMS appearing in the same thread as genuine messages from the bank and links started directing victims to a scam website, as well as the large number of customers targeted in the OCBC scam show that the threat is significantly heightened,” Tan said.

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