SINGAPORE: According to a joint study by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance (Gasa) and ScamAdviser, scammers globally made off with a staggering estimated sum of US$1.02 trillion between August 2022 and August 2023.
Notably, victims in Singapore faced the highest average losses.
This figure far surpassed the losses of US$55.3 billion in 2021 and US$47.8 billion in 2020.
Gasa’s managing director, Jorij Abraham, revealed this information during the opening speech on Wednesday (18 Oct) at the fourth annual Global Anti-Scam Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, which spans two days.
To obtain these insights, the study surveyed 49,459 individuals from 43 countries, including Singapore, extrapolating the data based on each country’s population.
Mr Abraham explained that the increased losses were attributed to the limitations of calculating losses based on figures from law enforcement agencies, which typically account for only about 7% of all scams.
Gasa, an organization that facilitates collaboration between policymakers, law enforcement agencies, and cybersecurity bodies, collaborates with ScamAdviser, a service that aids in identifying scam websites.
The study highlighted that the average scam victim in Singapore lost US$4,031, the highest globally, followed by Switzerland at US$3,767 and Austria at US$3,484, pointing to the appeal of these affluent nations as targets for scammers.
At the summit, Mr. Abraham addressed the audience of over 1,250 attendees from 100 countries, emphasizing the prevalence of online shopping, identity theft, and investment scams globally.
Mr. Abraham warned that scammers are utilizing more sophisticated methods, making traditional scam detection techniques insufficient.
He stressed the necessity of infrastructural measures, such as blocking scam sites, to provide more comprehensive consumer protection.
Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) data from February indicated an increase in losses, with victims in Singapore losing S$660.7 million in 2022 compared to S$632 million in 2021.
These trends were also evident in Singapore, with phishing scams being the most common in 2022, resulting in 7,097 cases and a loss of $16.5 million, according to SPF.
During the event, Dr Ng Li Sa, Director of Policy Development & Security at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Singapore, emphasized the pressing nature of the issue and the active measures being employed to combat it.
She underscored that the perpetrators targeting Singapore are primarily operating from abroad, emphasizing that the effective implementation of the law and the recovery of funds rely heavily on international collaboration.
In her address, she advocated for the establishment of Anti-Scam Commands similar to Singapore’s model in other countries.
These commands, where banks and law enforcement work in tandem to rapidly share information and freeze accounts linked to scams, could significantly disrupt fraudulent activities and curb illegal profits.
“With dedicated points of contact in each country, and a standardised turnaround time for the freezing of scam-tainted bank accounts and interception of funds, we can disrupt scam operations and drive down illicit gains.”
Dr. Ng also urged players in the industry, including technology firms and financial institutions, to find a balance between security and user convenience.
“If the alternative is to lose my life savings, perhaps needing a few more clicks and an identity verification check to complete a bank transfer might not be such a bad thing,” said Dr Ng.
“The equilibrium point between security and convenience is a norm that we can only move together, and every stakeholder has a part to play.”
WP chairman 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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