Look out for these scams on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Look out for these scams on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – online platforms run by tech behemoth Meta – have been the channels of choice for scammers here, according to the police’s scam reports for 2023.

The trend is in part due to the dominance of Meta’s apps, but the company has also been called out by the authorities – most notably, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling in Parliament on Feb 29 – for not doing enough to protect users from scams.

In particular, Facebook has not put in place safeguards like tools to verify users against government-issued ID and offer a secured payment option for Marketplace users, she added.

In response, Meta has said it was “dismayed” by her comments, adding that it has had years of close collaboration with the police to fight scams.

More than $650 million was lost to scams here, from a record 46,563 reported cases in 2023, the police announced in February. Meta platforms were among the top online channels exploited by scammers, accounting for nearly half the scam cases, with some $280 million in losses.

The Straits Times highlights the most common scams. 

E-commerce scams 

The advice here is: If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.

In e-commerce scams, which the police said are the second-most widespread type of scams here after the job variant scams, fraudsters lure victims with free items or discounted prices. They then request fees for deposits, delivery or reservations before disappearing with the money.

Close to half of all e-commerce scams in 2023 occurred on Facebook, followed by Carousell, said the police.

Facebook Marketplace is the only platform among those rated in the ministry’s anti-scam safety ratings that has not implemented the recommended safety features, Ms Sun noted in Parliament.

Scammers are also increasingly posing as buyers to dupe sellers into clicking on phishing links, claiming that doing so will facilitate payment, said Carousell chief of staff Tan Su Lin during a panel discussion at Google’s Asia-Pacific Online Safety Dialogue on March 13.

Phishing scams

Such scams lure victims to bogus websites that look like the authentic ones of banks or online platforms to trick them into entering their credentials.

Phishing links can also be sent via QR codes. On Carousell or Facebook Marketplace, fraudsters have sent malicious links or QR codes under the pretext of paying for goods or courier services.

Since January, more than 400 victims have lost at least $1.8 million to phishing scams involving fake buyers on Carousell and Facebook who pretended to be interested in their listings.

Those who clicked on the link were directed to a spoofed website that tricked them into keying in their banking credentials, allowing the scammers to steal their money.

Malware scams 

If a stranger on Facebook or WhatsApp directs you to install an app outside of the Google Play Store, it is most likely a virus-laden app that will allow hackers to spy on or control a victim’s phone.

Almost 1,900 victims fell for malware scams in 2023, losing $34.1 million. Victims typically responded to advertisements for services, like pet grooming or attractive deals, and were told to install an Android Package Kit file outside of authorised app stores – a process called sideloading.

Facebook and Instagram were the most common platforms used by scammers to contact potential victims, said the police.

Account takeover

Phishing links can also lead to the takeover of social media accounts, which can cut enterprises from their followers, who may even be bombarded with spam content or scam links posted by the fraudsters. Fraudsters can also use stolen accounts to contact followers.

The police have also warned of such takeovers here. They said in November 2022 that they received at least 110 reports of social media accounts being hacked that year. These included businesses that lost their accounts after being duped into clicking on a phishing link and handing over their credentials to fraudsters posing as potential customers.

Victims have had varied successes in reclaiming their accounts. Some manage to retrieve them after reporting to Facebook, while others face a long wait.

Fake friend call

Strangers may call you on WhatsApp claiming to know you, but they are unlikely to be your friend.

In such scams, fraudsters cultivate rapport with victims and eventually ask for money for various reasons, like to pay off loans.

More than 6,800 people were duped by fake friend calls in 2023, more than triple the number in 2022.

The police said more than $23 million was lost, with the majority of cases involving victims aged between 50 and 64.