SINGAPORE – In a disturbing trend that has surfaced since September 2023, at least five individuals have fallen victim to scams related to the sale of festive food items, particularly Chinese New Year goodies.
The victims collectively lost an estimated S$167,000 (US$124,000), raising concerns about the increasing sophistication of scammers targeting unsuspecting consumers.
The Singapore Police Force issued a news release on Wednesday (17 Jan), shedding light on the modus operandi of these scams.
According to the police, fraudulent advertisements promoting the sale of food items were predominantly posted on popular social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram. These ads, which appeared genuine at first glance, lured victims with enticing offers of festive treats.
Once potential victims clicked on the links provided in these advertisements, they were redirected to messaging platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
Here, scammers employed a cunning tactic, instructing victims to download an Android Package Kit (APK) to facilitate their orders for the food items. However, this seemingly innocuous step became the gateway for scammers to gain remote access to victims’ devices, allowing them to pilfer banking credentials and passwords.
The aftermath for victims was grim, as unauthorized transactions began to surface in their banking accounts.
The police emphasized that this elaborate scheme exploited individuals’ trust in the online purchasing process, particularly during festive seasons when the demand for specialty food items is high.
To safeguard against such scams, authorities have offered several recommendations. First and foremost, individuals are advised to exercise caution when downloading applications, especially from third-party or dubious sources.
The police strongly urged the public to install the ScamShield App, which provides an additional layer of protection against scam calls and SMSes.
Moreover, it is crucial for users to regularly update their devices’ applications and operating systems to ensure they have the latest security patches.
Taking a proactive approach, individuals are encouraged to disable the “Install Unknown App” or “Unknown Sources” function in their phone settings to prevent unauthorized access. Persistent pop-ups seeking access should be ignored.
For those who encounter suspicious content or advertisements on Facebook or Instagram, the police recommend reporting them directly to the platforms.
Additionally, individuals with information about scams are encouraged to contact the police hotline at 1800 255 0000 or submit details online through the provided link.
“Crisis of confidence”, says Sylvia Lim
During a Parliamentary motion debate last Wednesday (10 Jan), Sylvia Lim, the Workers’ Party (WP) chairman, highlighted the crisis of confidence among the public regarding the digital sphere.
She pointed out that even previously trusted savings avenues, like CPF funds and fixed deposits, are now vulnerable to scams and malware, contributing to this crisis of trust.
While acknowledging the importance of a ‘whole of nation’ approach to foster trust in the digital sphere by creating an inclusive and secure digital society, she emphasized the necessity for government and businesses to spearhead this initiative.
Ms Lim underscored the pressing need for robust measures to rebuild trust in the digital domain, specifically targeting the combat against evolving scams and the regulation of AI advancements.
Responding to comments by Ms Lim and her fellow MPs from the Workers’ Party, Ms Josephine Teo, Minister for Communication and Information, called on MPs not to spread labels on issues.
Ms Lim swiftly addressed Ms Teo’s allegation, emphasising that her speech did not intend to politicize the issue or to create panic, but rather she intended to reflect what she saw as the current sentiment of significant sections of the public.
She further laid out reasons to reflect on the public sentiment on declining trust toward online space.
She cited the IMDA’s statistics showing that 99% of persons aged 60 and above are worried about becoming scam victims.
“99%, that’s quite almost a hundred per cent of people in this age group are worried about becoming scam victims, ” she reminded.
She further highlighted other MPs also sharing that there are residents who ignore official communications because they can’t tell whether these are authentically from the government or it’s a scammed message.
Ms Lim also highlighted feedback from members of the public who expressed a desire to take their accounts offline, and the establishment of a Task Force on the resilience and security of Digital Infrastructure and services, in which she believed that its purpose was actually to oversee matters of public confidence.
“I would argue that there is a serious issue with public confidence, and I think it is borne out by these factors that I’ve mentioned, ” nevertheless, Ms Lim acknowledged the work done by the agencies is a big task and a 24/7 effort.
In response, Ms Teo did not address the point about the statistics that 99% of persons aged 60 and above are worried about becoming scam victims.
Instead, Ms Teo went on to say, ‘Whatever is posted on social media should benefit people who are not able to take part in this discussion. ”
“I hope that messages being put out by MPs don’t simply use very sensational or glaring headlines.’
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