Singaporeans are very proud of the fact that theirs is one of the safest cities in the world, often citing as proof their ability to walk around at 3 in the morning without getting mugged.
The country may not exactly be crawling with an underworld of scary crooks, but when it comes to scams that will divest you of your money quicker than you can say “sayonara life savings,”, it’s becoming an increasingly dangerous place.
The latest victim of an internet dating scam has lost a record $1.7 million, which really boggles the mind. Don’t become the next person to be featured in The New Paper for his gullibility and watch out for these four scams that, despite getting press coverage, are still getting the better of Singaporeans.
iPhone pop-up scam
If there’s anything that sends Singaporeans into a frenzy, it’s the promise of freebies. We already know many people here are willing to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the latest iPhone—one for each member of the family, including their kids who aren’t even tall enough to have to pay MRT fare.
That must be why so many people took leave of their common sense and got scammed by a pop-up ad claiming to offer the iPhone 7 for just $1. Now, this might sound scammy as hell to you, but then that’s easy enough to say when you’re reading an article about scams on MoneySmart.
In order to claim the right to purchase this purported $1 iPhone, victims are asked to provide their personal details, bank account information and credit card numbers—including the CVV and one-time password. That last part especially should send alarm bells off in their heads, but apparently many heads aren’t working. Predictably enough, these victims’ credit cards are then charged.
If there’s one thing Singaporeans are afraid of, it’s the authorities. The country’s been ruled by draconian laws and the long arm of the law for long enough to strike terror into the heart of anyone who suspects he’s about to be caught for some infringement.
That’s precisely why the police scam has worked so well. Victims receive a call, which turns out to be from the “police”. They’re asked by an automated voice message to enter their personal information, which often includes bank account or credit card details, either on the phone or on a website.
The automated voice message also informs them that they can, if they prefer, go to a police station with their IC, but you can bet that’s too scary a prospect for most Singaporeans. If they fail to do either of the above, they’re warned, police officers will show up at their home.
Now, let’s face it, most people have secretly done something illegal—downloaded some pirated material, cheated on parking coupons or tried to sneak in a pack of cigarettes from JB. The prospect of getting caught for something, anything, even if you can’t remember what, even if it wasn’t you who did it, is so scary it robs people of the ability to think straight.
Email impersonation scam
Despite the dismal level of customer service here, businesses still tend to treat their partners and associates well. This is still, after all, an Asian country where it’s important to prioritise business connections.
Scammers have capitalised on this by hacking into business’s email accounts, stealing their information and then emailing their business associates to ask for money. The business associates hand over the money without suspecting that the “partner” they’re corresponding with is actually a phony.
This is one of the hardest scams to unveil, since victims think they’re communicating with someone they are already familiar with and trust. Furthermore, when one is a busy businessman, one doesn’t have the time to analyse the nuances in every email, or feel suspicious as to why their business partner is suddenly unable to type gramatically.
Internet love scams
Fake internet lovers who target lonely older women and then ask them for obscene sums of money are the oldest trick in the book. But, over and over, Singaporeans have found themselves to be willing prey.
In the past, these scammers used to take on Caucasian identities, probably because they were perceived as more successful on online dating sites and thus more likely to find victims.
But not only are people becoming suspicious of all these John Smiths, the scammers themselves now originate from other locales. In the past, many of these scammers were actually from Nigeria. These days, they’re more likely to be from China.
As a result, you might be more likely to come across as an all-too-eager internet lover whose fake identity isn’t some blond guy from Denmark or the US, but a Malaysian, Hong Konger or Chinese person instead. Often, they maintain bank accounts in Hong Kong or China.
Since Singaporeans are used to thinking of internet love scammers as being Caucasians, and also because it’e easier for someone from a more similar culture to build trust, they’re continuing to fall for these scams in droves.
This story first appeared on Moneysmart, 21 November 2016.