121 bank accounts linked to OCBC scam frozen by police, around S$2m recovered: Desmond Tan – Mothership.SG


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A total of 121 bank accounts have been frozen by police as of February 13 in connection with the recent OCBC phishing scam, while around S$2 million have been recovered, the Minister of State for Business has said. Interior Desmond Tan in Parliament on February 12. 15.

In addition, approximately S$2.2 million of victims’ funds were traced to 89 overseas accounts.

Police have also discovered so far that at least 107 local and 171 overseas IP addresses were linked to unauthorized access to victims’ online bank accounts, with numerous phishing scam websites being hosted by overseas-based web hosting companies.

The police have opened investigations into local IP addresses

Tan was responding to several questions posed in parliament by MKs Tan Wu Meng, Sitoh Yih Pin and Dennis Tan about an update on ongoing investigations into the OCBC phishing scam.

He noted that police have since opened investigations into the local IP addresses linked to the scam and the owners of the local money mule accounts.

Police are also working with Interpol and foreign law enforcement to investigate recipients of funds transferred overseas and hosts of fraudulent websites, he said.

“As investigations are currently ongoing, we are unable to release any further information at this time,” he added.

Scams are on the rise

The Minister further pointed out that the phishing scam occurred amid an increase in the number of scams occurring in Singapore.

In 2021, 23,931 cases of scams were reported, including 5,020 cases of phishing scams.

That’s more than four times the 5,147 scam cases reported in 2017, of which only 16 were phishing scam cases, he pointed out.

Regarding phishing scams involving SMS impersonating banks in Singapore in particular, there were no cases in 2017, but there were 91 in 2018, 57 in 2019 and 149 in 2020 , before increasing significantly to 1,021 in 2021 due to OCBC phishing. scams.

Tan noted that the OCBC phishing scam alone accounted for 790 customers in the two months from December 2021 to January 2022 – by far the largest phishing scam involving spoofed text messages.

He said:

“The use of a combination of highly orchestrated tactics, involving forged text messages appearing in the same thread as genuine bank messages and links directing victims to a fraudulent website, together with the large number of customers targeted by the OCBC scam, show that now the threat is greatly increased.”

As for card fraud cases reported by major credit card issuers in Singapore to MAS in 2021, this represented less than 0.1% of total credit card transactions, he added.

What measures have been taken?

Responding to questions about whether the police have “enough resources” to deal with scams, Tan replied: “The police are extremely stretched. Our officers have been trying to cope with a growing workload and expectations. , without a proportional increase in staff. We will have to review this untenable situation.”

Regarding the current measures that have been taken, Tan referred to the establishment of the Anti-Scam Center (ASC) in 2019 as a specialized unit focused on anti-scam interventions and enforcement.

He precised :

“Since 2019, the ASC has frozen approximately 24,000 bank accounts suspected of being involved in fraudulent activity and recovered approximately S$160 million in fraudulent proceeds.

This would include some of the 17 million Singapore dollars lost since 2020 in around 1,300 cases of phishing scams involving spoofed text messages impersonating banks in Singapore, an issue Dr Tan Wu Meng asked. SPF does not track the amount of funds recovered by the type of scam.”

The center also carried out 26 island-wide anti-scam operations, which resulted in the arrest of around 7,500 mules and scammers in 2021, he added.

“ASC uses technology to automate manual work processes, such as generating electronic production orders to banks to freeze bank accounts associated with scams, and sending personalized crime notices to members of the This will allow police resources to focus on essential criminal investigation and law enforcement work.

Tan also pointed out that the police will form an anti-scam command this year to consolidate expertise on scams in police ground units, and thus further improve the coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations.

The main challenge is that the vast majority of scams are perpetrated overseas

As for the main challenge facing authorities, Tan said the vast majority of scams are perpetrated by overseas-based syndicates.

He gave the following three reasons as to why such cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute:

  1. The ability to solve these cases depends on the level of cooperation from foreign law enforcement, as well as their ability to track down scammers in their own jurisdictions.
  2. These scammers are usually part of an organized criminal syndicate and carry out sophisticated transnational operations that are not easy to detect or dismantle. The unions also have sufficient resources and know how to use technology to cover their tracks.
  3. When the money has already been transferred out of Singapore, recovery is very difficult.

He added: “Where we have been able to (recover money) it has involved close partnerships with financial institutions, in particular having DBS staff co-located with the FPS (police) at ASC to ensure coordination. faster and in real time. and intervention.”

The ASC and Singapore Mint are also working with more banks to co-locate their staff at the ASC, to further improve the ASC’s capabilities to freeze accounts as well as track money flows. .

Public education remains essential

This brought up the following point from Tan: “Enforcement, by itself, is not enough.”

An informed public is the best defense against scams, and as a result, the government has raised strong public awareness of scams, Tan added.

The measures the government has taken include a public education campaign called “Spot the Signs. Stop the Crimes.”

This effort involved the release of materials educating the public on scam prevention tips, such as never sharing one-time passwords, or OTPs, with unverified parties and being wary of requests for gift cards and credits online.

The government has also rolled out prevention initiatives targeting specific segments of the population.

Tan pointed out that different victim profiles fall prey to different types of scams.

For phishing scams, employment scams, e-commerce, investment, loan scams, official Chinese impersonation scams, as well as scams on fake gaming platforms, the government found that young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 formed the largest group of victims, compared to other age groups.

For social media impersonation scams, internet romance scams, and fake call-from-friends scams, adults between the ages of 40 and 59 formed the largest group of victims.

The public is invited to download ScamShield

Tan then urged the public to download ScamShield to filter messages and block scam calls.

He said:

“To date, ScamShield has been downloaded approximately 257,000 times. Approximately 3.7 million text messages and calls were detected as potential scams by the in-app algorithm and users reported themselves through the app. Approximately 15,500 phone numbers have also been blocked. We are unable to provide Mr. Gerald Giam with the percentage of scam calls and SMS messages successfully blocked, as ScamShield does not track the number of calls and SMS sent or received by users.”

Regarding the OCBC phishing scam, Tan said ScamShield detected and filtered around 2,000 fraudulent messages.

“Unfortunately, many more fraudulent messages managed to reach ScamShield users’ SMS inboxes, primarily because they appeared in the same thread as the legitimate messages. This gap will be closed as agencies improve our SMS ecosystem , as Minister Josephine Teo explained,” he noted. .

“That said, ScamShield by itself is not a panacea, and all parts of the ecosystem need to work together to combat scams, including the vigilance of our members of the public.”

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