Tougher laws for those who misuse SIM cards for scams, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Tougher laws for those who misuse SIM cards for scams

Stronger action will be taken against those who enable the misuse of local SIM cards for criminal activity, and claiming ignorance will no longer be a valid defence.

The Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill was passed on April 2, introducing offences targeting those who misuse local SIM cards to facilitate scams.

Three groups are being targeted – errant telco subscribers, retailers, and middlemen who deal in such cards.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said scams remain a problem, with more than 46,000 cases in 2023.

This is a record high, with victims losing some $651.8 million that year.

She said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had introduced the SMS Sender ID Registry in 2023, causing scams from SMSes to fall by 70 per cent in the three months after implementation.

IMDA also worked with telecommunication companies to block incoming overseas calls that spoofed local numbers.

But the scammers adapted swiftly.

Mrs Teo said: “With these measures in place, scammers have quickly changed their tactics and pivoted to using local SIM cards to reach prospective victims. People who receive scam calls and SMSes from locally registered numbers may think they are legitimate, and fall prey.”

She said more than 23,000 local mobile lines were involved in scams and other cybercrimes in 2023, which is four times the number in 2021.

She added about $400 million was lost in such cases in 2023, which is three times the amount lost in 2021.

She said a sampling study found close to 80 per cent of local SIM cards misused for crime were registered with another person’s particulars.

But the police have trouble prosecuting such cases as the culprits could easily claim ignorance.

The new offences that were introduced specifically target irresponsible subscribers, middlemen and errant retailers.

Irresponsible subscribers are those who give away their SIM cards or provide their particulars to others to sign up for SIM cards.

Mrs Teo cited the case of a subscriber who signed up for 11 post-paid SIM cards in 2023 and sold them to a friend, claiming that this friend said the mobile lines were needed to create accounts on cryptocurrency platforms.

Six of the 11 lines were used in scam cases.

But because he claimed ignorance when questioned by the police, they could not take action against him as the onus had been on the police to prove his guilt.

It will be an offence for a person to hand over local SIM cards registered in his own name, or to allow his particulars to be used to sign up for a local SIM card by another person if he believes that the SIM card will be misused.

This includes selling or giving away the card for any gain, and giving one’s particulars to a stranger to sign up for SIM cards.

But those who have legitimate reasons, such as registering a SIM card for their family members, will not be liable. Those who were tricked into giving up their particulars will also not be prosecuted.

Middlemen are those who broker SIM cards for misuse, including providing local SIM cards to scam syndicates. To tackle this group, it will be an offence for a person to receive, supply or possess local SIM cards registered using another person’s particulars, and unregistered SIM cards if he believes the cards will be misused.

A person with 11 or more of such SIM cards will be liable, or if he has a SIM card that was previously used for crime.

A person with legitimate reasons, such as being an employer who is holding on to SIM cards intended for employees, will also not be prosecuted.

Errant retailers are those who facilitate the fraudulent registration of local SIM cards.

It will be an offence for a mobile service provider or retailer to register a local SIM card using anyone’s particulars without permission, or knowing that the particulars are false or misleading if it believes the cards will be misused or if the cards are later used in a crime.

Mrs Teo said even one local mobile line can cause significant harm when misused.

She said in a 2021 case, a mobile line was linked to 48 job scam reports, with losses amounting to around $1 million.

She said: “Every SIM card in the hands of a scammer is a weapon. Armed with even just one SIM card, a scammer can do a great deal of harm.”

Mrs Teo said the penalties for committing the new offences will be pegged to those for the misuse of Singpass credentials under the Computer Misuse Act.

The offence targeting irresponsible subscribers will carry a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail term of up to three years.

The offences targeting the brokers and retailers of SIM cards for misuse will similarly carry a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail term of up to three years for a first offence. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $20,000, and jailed for up to five years.

The Bill also makes amendments to enhance the police’s ability to apprehend people posing a safety risk to themselves and others, and to safeguard Yellow Ribbon Singapore’s symbols to prevent them from being misused under the guise of supporting former offenders.