Online impersonation scams rise: Victims cheated of $38 million in 2019, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Online impersonation scams rise: Victims cheated of $38 million in 2019

This article is more than 12 months old

672 cases in first 11 months of last year, up from 71 in 2017

The number of cases of people scammed by impersonators on social media has jumped by more than nine times in the past three years, with most victims - six in 10 - aged in their 20s to 40s.

The number rose from 71 in 2017 to 672 cases in the first 11 months of last year.

The amount cheated ballooned by nearly 43 times, from at least $168,000 to about $7.2 million over the same period of time.

The scammers often use compromised or spoofed social media accounts to pretend to be a family member or friend to trick victims.

The trend of young people being scammed by impersonators also bears out in findings for other scams, which Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam revealed in a written parliamentary reply on Monday.

This runs counter to a popular belief that the elderly are more likely to be scammed.

China officials impersonation scam cases have more than doubled, from 188 cases in 2017 to 401 cases between last January and November. The amount cheated also rose, from at least $12.8 million to $18.8 million over the same period.

More younger victims were targeted last year too, with more than half below the age of 30.

Tech support scam cases have also quadrupled, rising from 53 in 2017 to 224 in the first 11 months last year. But the amount cheated rose a whopping 333 times, from at least $36,000 to $12 million over the same period. Both the elderly and the young were targeted.

In such scams, the crooks usually pretend to be staff from telcos or law enforcement officers, deceiving victims into installing malicious software onto their computers.

While some believe older people are more gullible, young people can be impressionable too, said Mr Aloysius Cheang, the Asia-Pacific executive vice-president of the Centre for Strategic Cyberspace and International Studies.

"Younger people are becoming high value targets as they are willing to spend a lot of time online and have no qualms performing Internet transactions," he said.

The more prevalent use of social media by young adults is also exploited by scammers, who use this platform at little or no cost to reach more potential victims, private psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng told The Straits Times.

"How old, tech savvy or intelligent you are does not matter. Psychologically vulnerable people - those who are more agreeable, worry about not being liked or tend to experience loneliness - these are the ones who tend to fall prey to scams," Dr Lim explained.

Mr Shanmugam said on Monday that with criminals constantly evolving their methods, the public has to remain sceptical and transact only on reliable platforms. "No amount of police resources will be enough. The key to the fight against scams is a discerning public."