12 Common Scams in Singapore

Tell me if this is not true. You probably have read many stories about people being scammed in Singapore. But here’s the thing. You probably think that that will never happen to you. Am I right? I mean, what are the chances that you would unwittingly fall victim to such scams?

But in reality, more than S$7 million has been lost to scammers posing as technical support staff in the first four months of this year, an increase of more than 40 times from the same period last year!


So before we fall prey to any more of these cons and tricks, we should definitely familiarize ourselves with some common scams in Singapore and how to avoid them:


#1: Cheating involving E-commerce Scams

From January to May 2020, there has been a total of 2,467 cases, with losses amounting to $3,280,751.

The scam:

Tempted by what seems like too good a deal to pass online? Don’t click it! E-commerce scams have proved to be the most common in the first three months of this year, with “COVID-19 related items” accounting for about one in four such cases. Also, there were more than 530 victims losing at least S$380,000 to fraudulent sellers due to e-commerce scams involving electronic products. Imagine that!

How to avoid:

Always use a trusted shopping platform or transact ONLY with people you trust. Be mindful of the appearance of the website that you’re on to avoid phishing websites (it may look real to trick you into disclosing your account information).


#2: Social Media Impersonation Scam

From January to May 2020, there has been a total of 1,033 cases, with losses amounting to $2,602,056.

The scam:

Most of us were taught as kids never to trust strangers, much less give up any personal information. But when it comes to familiar faces, we let our guard down and scammers know this well enough to take advantage of it. We might not even think twice about giving phone numbers or, worse, a few hundred dollars!

But here’s the thing, scammers often use compromised of fake social media accounts to impersonate as the victim’s friends or followers on social accounts such as Facebook and Instagram. Be mindful if a “friend” asks for your personal details such as mobile number, OTP, or internet banking account details. These important information may be used by scammers to make unauthorised and fraudulent transactions. One common tactic by these impostors is to ask for pictures of your credit or debit card and your OTPs because they’re trying to “help you sign up for lucky draws” on Lazada or Shopee.

In fact, in March 2020 alone, the Police received at least 206 reports of social media impersonation scams where victims were tricked into disclosing their mobile number and Grab One-Time Password (OTP) to scammers!

How to avoid:

If you have a childhood friend or acquaintance suddenly sliding into your DMs asking for your number after 5 years of no interaction, well then, let me tell you this – they ain’t your friend. And red flags should immediately be up and flying high. But just to ensure that you are not ghosting a genuine friend, double check that their handles are spelt correctly and that photos have been posted over a period of time.

Another quick check if they’re genuinely your friend is to text their mobile number directly and ask if it’s them. If they’re a long lost friend whose number you no longer have, ask them a trick question like how’s (insert fake family member’s name here).


#3: Loan Scams

From January to May 2020, there has been a total of 848 cases, with losses amounting to $4,688,581.

The scam:

With the economy badly hit by the effects of COVID-19, millions of people around the world, including in Singapore, have lost their jobs and sources of income. Those who are looking for quick solutions to their financial problems may easily fall prey to loan scams.

Scams like this generally start with a too-good-to-be-true loans and loan services on messaging platforms. But did you know that it is illegal for licensed moneylenders to advertise via SMS or WhatsApp?

Scammers may ask for your personal information such as your identity card number, SingPass details, and bank account numbers. These information will be used to harass or threaten victims for payment.

How to avoid:

If you receive messages offering loans, ignore and block it. And remember to stay alert!


#4: Credit-for-Sex Scams

From January to May 2020, there has been a total of 404 cases, with losses amounting to $2,788,796.

The scam:

In this scam, a stranger befriends her victim through social media platforms. The scammer talks the victim into buying them a purchase or gift card (e.g. Alipay Purchase Cards, iTunes cards, etc) in exchange for a meet-up, date or sexual favours.

How to avoid:

Lookout for friend requests from strangers on social media platforms, especially if they are offering escort, massage or sexual services. Do an image search of the person’s photo to verify their identity. Do not give out your personal details to strangers on the internet. Do not provide payment receipts containing details such as PINs or credit card numbers to anyone.


#5: Internet Love Scams

From January to May 2020, there has been a total of 345 cases, with losses amounting to $11,426,935.

The scam:

After befriending an attractive person online, he or she tells a tale about falling into trouble or hard times. The scammer persists with the story to gain their victim’s trust and adoration, then asks for money as proof of love. Once the money is transferred, the scammer disappears.

How to avoid:

Look out for strangers you befriend online. Know the tell-tale signs of a fake dating profile: poor grammar that doesn’t fit with their stated level of education or a fake photo sourced from the internet are just some of the warning signs. People who shower you with loving words and profess strong feelings for you even before you meet or quickly after being acquainted online are also one to look out for. Remember that scammers prey on emotions to lull victims into a false relationship!

So, do not respond to any requests for money, even if they sound desperate or troubled. Do not send money to people you do not know well, especially if you have never met in person. Meet all requests for money with a cool head. Be in control of your emotions knowing that it could be a scam. Call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before you act. You may be overwhelmed by emotions, which can cloud your judgment. Do not reveal too much about yourself, particularly in the form of photos or videos, which could be used to blackmail you.


#6: Whatsapp scams

The scam:

Virtually every Singaporean uses WhatsApp, so of course scammers have taken to the platform. Scammers are reportedly taking over WhatsApp accounts. They do this by hijacking accounts and then using them to contact potential victims, asking them to transfer money, buy gift cards and so on.

In order to hijack accounts, they use a compromised account to send messages to friends of that account holder asking for their WhatsApp verification code. Once they get hold of the verification code, they proceed to take over the friend’s WhatsApp account, too.

How to avoid:

When getting such a request, always be cautious of giving any sort of information to anyone (friend or not)! To double check, you can always call the person’s mobile number up to ask if he or she is indeed requesting for a verification code.


#7:  Unofficial emails from Apple

The scam:

A hacked iCloud account is a pretty common thing nowadays with the most prominent incident being in 2014 when a group of female A-list celebrities like JLaw had their personal photos leaked online after successful phishing attacks. This incident may have happened in 2014 but don’t be fooled, the attacks are still rampant and are now targeted at the general public.

The phishing attacks can also take the form of emails impersonating Apple, claiming their account has been locked or compromised, and that they had to log in or reset their account by clicking on a link. But instead of securing their account, these victims were actually handing over their login and passwords to complete strangers!

How to avoid:

Usually, official emails from Apple will be invoices which include information that hackers won’t have like your billing address. For Apple-looking emails that are not invoices, simply double-check sender’s address. If you want a foolproof way to tell if your account is compromised, drop Apple an enquiry.

But in some instances where the email address still looks legit and grammar checks out, you should still avoid clicking any links to update your account or giving any information. Instead, update your password and personal information directly in Settings on your phone.


#8: Calls or texts from the bank

The scam:

Scam callers “from the bank” or “MAS” will usually claim that your account has been locked, you have some debts they can settle for you, or that they can offer you a loan. They’ll then ask for information like your account number, OTPs, or passwords which legitimate banks and MAS will never ask for. Give them any of this information and you might as well should have just laid out a red carpet to your bank account, or walked around the street with a sign plastered to your forehead with all these information for the world to see.

How to avoid:

It’s important to know actual reasons banks will call you and how they verify that you’re the account or cardholder. Banks will only typically call you for suspicious activity on your account like unusual purchases in another country or if you have any unpaid bills. To verify it’s you, they’ll ask you things they already know like your birthday or how many cards you own.

Calls from the bank requiring you to make a transaction or reveal information like your banking credentials or your OTPs are big red flags. Double-check the number and make sure there isn’t a “+” in the number as these are overseas calls. If you’re still on the fence whether it’s a scam or not, always choose the side of caution and refuse to give any personal information out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!


#9: Carousell Scams

The scam:

I am sure many of y’all know what Carousell is. Carousell is a go-to place for many to find cheap deals on everything from branded bags to Nintendo Switches. The flip side is that there are also many ill-intentioned people posing as sincere buyers and sellers.

Most scams on Carousell usually involves sellers taking payment for items that were fake, spoilt, or goods they never intended to ship. To combat this, Carousell introduced a new payment method – Caroupay. This safeguard withholds payments from sellers until buyers confirm that their purchases have been received in good condition.

This sounds like a foolproof way to get rid of scammers but, alas, people get smarter and find ways to game the system. Now, there are deceitful buyers who request for refunds claiming the items were not as described. Often, they re-list the high-value item on a different account, essentially making money out of thin air.

How to avoid:

It’s clear that the nature of scams is constantly evolving. A good rule of thumb: be extra vigilant with high-value transactions and analyse the reviews of sellers and buyers. Bare accounts with no reviews or listings are very shady so steer clear of those.

Additionally, always opt for meet-ups whenever possible (but remember to wear your masks!). Worst case scenario is being stood up, but at least you save money that way.


#10: Instagram ambassador scams

The scam:

The glitz and glamour of an influencer’s life can be alluring, and many scammers know that. If you’ve been tapping through your stories, some of your targeted ads might be some low-key brands looking for ambassadors. They make it look so simple too – just swipe up for the website and fill in some simple information and surprise, you’re just who they’re looking for.

According to them, you’ll get a super exclusive promo code for a discount in exchange for a review or feature on your social media. Or even better, they give you the items for free as long as you pay for shipping which could even cost more than the item itself. Then it becomes a waiting game with no guarantee of receiving what you were promised.

How to avoid:

Before you jump headfirst into a probable scam, do quick google searches on the company and reviews of their brand. More often than not, other people who have already lost money to this scam would have posted about it online. If their social media pages also look recently made and they’re offering deals that seem too good to be true, they’re likely out to take advantage of you.

All in all, avoid giving any personal information and if you’ve already done so, immediately block them if they contact you.


#11: Messages and calls from “royalty” and kidnapping scams

The scam:

The elaborate stories some scammers come up with could be worthy of a soap opera or film. Think millionaire royalty in distress or kidnappers holding your family members hostage. Props to them for originality.

But far-fetched as they are, it’s usually our loving grandparents who fall for these since they’d rather give up their life savings than see their family in harm’s way. These scams are often carried out through email blasts, calls and online messages.

How to avoid:

This scam isn’t exactly difficult to identify. Just treat any far-fetched story from a stranger on the internet with suspicion. For calls, avoid picking up any from foreign numbers. On top of being a scam, you might get slapped with exorbitant overseas call charges too.

Make it a rule to never ever give or lend money to anybody over the internet because you’ll never see that money again. Then after that, check in on the seniors to warn them from unwittingly giving away their retirement money.


#12: Delivery scams – parcel stuck in customs

The scam:

In the age of online shopping, this scam is something many of us may be vulnerable to. Lost parcels and damaged items are bad enough, but a call from “customs” for a stuck parcel takes the cake when it comes to online order fears.

These “customs” people tell you that you have to pay a fee for your parcel to be released to you. Either that or your package has illegal items that you now have to pay a fine for.

How to avoid:

The easiest way to tell if it’s fake is to check if you’ve ordered anything. If you’ve bought something online and your parcel is genuinely being held up at customs, they won’t actually contact you through call or text and ask for payment for it to be released. So as long as the caller is asking for money, it’s downright shady and you should hang up.

But if you are bored from working from home and have all the time in the world, well then, you could do what some people do – waste the scam caller’s time and give them less time to con others.


Think you might be a victim of a scam? Visit https://www.scamalert.sg/ now if you suspect that you are involved in a scam, or to search the site to see if there are similar stories that match your circumstances.

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