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Police freeze 121 bank accounts linked to OCBC scam; SGD2M recovered

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singapore police have frozen 121 local bank accounts amid ongoing investigations into a recent SMS phishing scam targetting OCBC bank customers, while recovering about SGD2 million of victims’ money.

In addition, about SGD2.2 million has been traced to 89 overseas bank accounts, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan yesterday.

Tan was giving a ministerial statement on Singapore’s anti-scam strategy after nearly 800 OCBC customers lost a combined SGD13.7 million to scammers impersonating the bank via SMS phishing.

Responding to questions from Members of Parliament, he noted that the police have found at least 107 local and 171 overseas IP addresses linked to the unauthorised access of victims’ Internet banking accounts.

Many of the scam websites used in the phishing scam were hosted by companies based overseas, he added.

Police are investigating the local IP addresses linked to the scam and the owners of the local money mule accounts.

An OCBC branch in Singapore. PHOTO: CNA

They are also working with Interpol and foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate the beneficiaries of the funds transferred overseas, as well as the hosts of these scam websites, said Tan.

The SMS phishing scam involving OCBC came amid a rise in the number of scams reported in Singapore.

Last year, 23,931 scam cases were reported, including 5,020 phishing scams.

These figures mark a four-fold increase from 2017 – when there were 5,147 cases of scams reported, with 16 being phishing scams, said Tan, who also chairs the Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams. Specifically on phishing scams involving SMSes impersonating banks, there were no such cases reported in 2017.

They started emerging in 2018 with 91 cases, followed by 57 cases in 2019 and 149 cases in 2020. This surged further to 1,021 last year.

Responding to another parliamentary question, Tan noted that card fraud cases reported by major credit card issuers in Singapore formed less than 0.1 per cent of total credit card transactions last year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) do not track the percentage of funds recovered for these unauthorised credit card transactions, he added.

To better combat scams, the police will form an Anti-Scam Command this year to consolidate expertise in scams across all SPF land units, thereby improving its coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations.

The new command, said Tan, will also oversee the newly formed Scam Strike Teams in the seven police land divisions.

At the moment, the police already have an Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) which was set up in 2019 as a specialised unit focussed on anti-scam interventions and enforcement.

Last year, the ASC conducted 26 islandwide anti-scam operations and arrested about 7,500 money mules and scammers.

The unit has also frozen about 24,000 bank accounts suspected of being involved in scam activities since 2019, while recovering nearly SGD160 million in scam proceeds.

Tan pointed out that the recovery of money lost to scams is “very difficult”.

“Where we have been able to, it involved close partnerships with financial institutions, particularly by having a DBS staff co-located with SPF at the ASC to provide swifter and real-time coordination and intervention.”

As such, the ASC and MAS are working with more banks to co-locate their staff at the ASC so as to enhance the centre’s capabilities to freeze accounts and trace the flow of funds, he told the House.

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