Psychologists study tricks and tactics scammers employ to find ways to protect victims
Victims of loan scams are often led to believe they are just one transfer away from securing the money they desperately need, and those here that let down their guard last year lost a total of $18.3 million.
Others fall victim to the powers of persuasion and pressure, giving up their hard-earned savings which in Singapore alone saw at least $633 million stolen in scams last year.
The tactics scammers employ, and the steps that can be taken to protect victims, are one of the highlights of the Asian Conference of Criminal and Operations Psychology (ACCOP) that is being held this week.
Presenting their findings at the opening of the four-day event on Monday (July 18), psychologists Carolynn Misir and Lee Rong Cheng said their research showed that victims are often manipulated into thinking emotively.
This results in them making rushed and emotionally-driven decisions, when they should instead stop and evaluate all of the information.
"This is what we term as a 'cognitive break' - to pause, step out of the situation and evaluate," said Ms Misir and Mr Lee, who are with the Police Psychological Services Department.
They said fraudsters exploit a host of psychological techniques to dupe victims into giving information or money.
For example in e-commerce scams, victims are often hurried into making decisions, for instance, to buy lower price items that are available online for a limited time only, said the psychologists.
Last year, victims in Singapore lost $5.8 million to e-commerce scams.
The event, which is being held virtually, brings together experts, practitioners and others to discuss topics such as misinformation, drug abuse and extremism.
In her opening address, Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Home Affairs, and Social and Family Development, said criminals take advantage of weaknesses in the human psyche.
"Maybe where we desire too much, trust too much, or have let our guard down.
"And criminals are on the lookout for that, exploiting our human tendencies and psychology to harm us or scam us," she added, noting that scams formed more than half of the crimes reported here last year.
They also contributed to a 24 per cent rise in the overall crime rate in 2021.
Understanding human psychology can help improve the measures against crime, said Ms Sun.
She noted that victims of scam can suffer from helplessness and shame, and risk falling into a cycle of self-blaming and even self-harm.
Ms Sun said: "One victim said that she was devastated and felt like committing suicide.
"The victim also thought that she was going crazy and did not dare talk to anyone else because people will laugh and mock her."
The issue of how to care for victims of scams will also be discussed at the conference, which was first held in 2010.
Police psychologist Tiffany Danker, who is also from the Police Psychological Services Department, said that victims can also face stress and trauma during investigations.
For example, when they have to recount a crime to the authorities or lawyers.
Victims who lack social support may find it especially stressful, added Ms Danker, who presented findings of her study at the conference.
She said to tackle this, police officers and frontliners undergo regular training on victim care.
Victims may also be assigned a counsellor for emotional support during investigations.
Helplines for victims
Anti-Scam Hotline: 1800-722-6688 (9am - 5pm)
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)
Online resources on scams
Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252
Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800