Tougher laws in Singapore passed to clamp down money mules, Singpass abusers in scams

Police investigated more than 19,000 money mules from 2020 to 2022, but fewer than 250 cases were prosecuted

The Singapore police investigated over 19,000 cases involving money mules from 2020 to 2022, but fewer than 250 of those cases resulted in prosecution.
The Singapore police investigated over 19,000 cases involving money mules from 2020 to 2022, but fewer than 250 of those cases resulted in prosecution. (PHOTO:Getty Images)

UPDATE: Singapore government has passed the amendments to laws against money mules and sale of bank accounts on 9 May.

SINGAPORE — Out of over 19,000 cases in Singapore involving money mules - people who facilitate the movement of scam monies - from 2020 to 2022, fewer than 250 of them resulted in prosecution.

To empower the Singapore police in tackling money mules, as well as those who abuse Singpass accounts for scams and other crimes, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) tabled amendments to the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA) and the Computer Misuse Act were in Parliament on Tuesday (18 April).

MHA, together with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), said that a large number of money mules could not be charged, due to difficulties in proving their intent to facilitate criminal activities.

The proposed amendments will seek to add new offences of rash or negligent money laundering, which will enable money mules with lower culpabilities to be charged.

MHA and SNDGO also warned against the trend of selling Singpass passwords to scam syndicates.

"Our payment accounts, including bank accounts and Singpass accounts, are for our use," they said in a media release on the introduction of the amendments.

"They should not be used by another person, especially if we do not know who the other party is or what the transactions are for."

Crackdown on money mules

The number of scam cases in Singapore has skyrocketed by more than five times, to nearly 32,000 reports between 2018 and 2022, according to CNA.

And it's not just the frequency of the scams that is concerning; in 2022 alone, victims lost a staggering S$660.7 million, a 4.5 per cent increase from the previous year.

Criminal syndicates often rely on money mules to carry out their dirty work, using the mules' bank accounts to transfer funds.

Until now, many of these money mules escape charges because the prosecution must prove that the money mules know or have reasonable grounds to believe that their bank accounts are linked to criminal activity.

To combat this, authorities are proposing new offences, including rash and negligent money laundering, as well as assisting in retaining criminal benefits.

For example, a person responds to a job advertisement offering an attractive commission for receiving and transferring money through his bank account. In this case, he may be liable for prosecution if he does not take steps to understand the origin or destination of the money.

"A person who acted negligently by continuing with a transaction despite the presence of red flags that are noticeable by an ordinary, reasonable person, can also be liable for an offence," MHA and SNDGO said.

Combating Singpass abuse

Authorities also propose amendments to the Computer Misuse Act to address Singpass abuse. Singpass is an online account that provides access to government services in Singapore.

Criminals who obtain Singpass credentials can use them to engage in fraudulent activities such as registering companies, opening bank accounts, and signing up for new phone lines.

The proposed changes to the Act will introduce new offences that criminalise the disclosure of Singpass credentials for unlawful purposes.

Those who disclose their Singpass credentials while knowing, or having reasonable grounds to believe, that the disclosure was for an offence can be prosecuted.

Those who give away their credentials will be presumed to have broken the law if they receive any gain, know that the disclosure would likely cause wrongful loss, or do not make reasonable efforts to find out the identity and location of the recipient.

Reinforcing message to Singpass users

MHA and SNDGO said that the proposed provisions reinforce the message that Singpass users must be careful and exercise due diligence with their Singpass credentials.

They clarified that the proposed amendments are not intended to capture those who share their Singpass credentials for lawful purposes or were genuinely tricked into giving up their credentials.

Currently, those who give up their Singpass credentials can be charged with unauthorised disclosure of an access code under the Computer Misuse Act.

Another proposed offence is obtaining, retaining, supplying, offering to supply, transmitting or making available another person's Singpass credentials to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence.

Singpass' Digital IC interface.
Singpass' Digital IC interface. (SCREENSHOT: GovTech)

Singapore introduces tougher laws against money mules and sale of bank accounts

The Singapore government has passed the tougher laws in Parliament on 9 May.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo revealed in Parliament that out of around 120 suspected money mules involved in phishing scams targeting OCBC Bank customers from December 2021 to January 2022, only nine could be charged due to legal limitations.

Under the new laws, the offence of rash and negligent money laundering has been introduced.

Those convicted of rash money laundering can face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while those convicted of negligent money laundering can face up to three years in jail and a fine of up to $150,000.

The offence of disclosing or dealing in Singpass credentials for criminal activities has also been introduced, and those convicted of such an offence can face up to three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Teo stated that the new laws are necessary to combat the rise in phishing scams targeting Singaporean banks. She also assured the House that the intention is not to penalise those who were genuinely tricked or had their trust betrayed. The authorities will consider the circumstances of each case and act judiciously.

The laws are expected to come into force in about six months, giving the public time to familiarise themselves with the changes.

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