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Singapore victims lost S$1.2 million to Android malware scams in September

Singapore lost S$1.2 million (US$875,000) to Android malware scams in September, affecting 43 victims. The Singapore Police Force has warned against downloading APK files from suspicious sources.

Earlier last month, the Workers’ Party’s Sylvia Lim suggested that banks should reimburse victims. However, Minister Alvin Tan emphasized consumer vigilance and digital diligence.

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Singapore – In a recent surge of malicious activity, about S$1.2 million (US$875,000) was lost to Android malware scams promoting travel packages on social media in September.

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) confirmed in their news release on Thursday (5 Oct) that at least 43 victims were deceived by these scams.

Ads on popular social platforms like Facebook and Instagram advertised enticing deals on cruises, concert tours, and even durian tours. However, responding to these ads led victims down a treacherous path.

Once engaged on WhatsApp by these “sellers,” victims were directed to download an Android package kit (APK) file to process their booking fees.

Unfortunately, these APK files, which are meant for installing Android applications, gave scammers remote access to victims’ devices.

This allowed them to pilfer banking credentials and passwords. Some victims were even duped into providing their banking details through fake interfaces or prompted to transfer booking fees directly.

As a result, numerous victims later found unauthorized transactions made from their banking accounts.

SPF Suggests Precautionary Measures

To counter these threats, SPF recommended that the public protect themselves by utilizing tools like the ScamShield app and regularly updated antivirus applications.

They emphasized the importance of ensuring that device operating systems and applications are patched with the latest security updates.

Moreover, the police advised against allowing installations from “unknown sources” and warned against persistent pop-ups requesting device access. Only official app stores, such as the Google Play Store for Android devices, should be used for downloads.

SPF stated, “Always be cautious when asked to download unknown apps for purchasing services or products on social media.”

Sylvia Lim proposes for banks to reimburse victims

Against this backdrop of escalating scams, Sylvia Lim, Workers’ Party (WP) chairman, delivered a powerful adjournment motion in Parliament on 18 September.

She asserted that banks should take full responsibility for reimbursing scam and malware fraud victims.

Her motion highlighted the alarming rise in scam victims and the unauthorized transactions targeting Android users, regardless of their banking affiliations.

Arguing that banks should be the safeguard against such threats, Ms Lim called for a re-introduction of physical tokens for two-factor authentication and extra precautions for vulnerable customers.

She also underscored the need to consider international benchmarks, emphasizing the proactive measures adopted by banks like the UK’s TSB in deterring scams from their onset.

However, her plea was met with resistance from Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Trade and Industry.

He argued that there must be a balance between fairness and accountability. Stating that full restitution might diminish personal responsibility and vigilance, Mr Tan underscored the significant strides the Monetary Authority of Singapore has taken in fortifying digital systems and emphasized the consumer’s role in maintaining digital diligence and cybersecurity.

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It looks like punishment for convicted scammers are not enough to deter this crime in SG. Scammers, by cheating their victims of their life savings some of which are for retirement, destroy lives and families. This puts them in the same category as illicit drug traffickers. Convicted scammers including their associates such as cash mules deserve no less punishment or mercy as illicit convicted drug traffickers.

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