Online scams

10 Sep 2018

There are many types of scams that have grown in popularity online, and it is important to know them to keep you safe online.

Cold call scams

Although this is technically not an online scam, it is one of the most common scams in Singapore. Cold call scammers contact you on your home or mobile phone and try to sell you fake products, or pretend to be from a government agency. Their goal is to get either personal information or money from you.

How can I spot a cold call scam?

  • The call will be unexpected
  • Depending on the type of scam, the caller may be friendly or intimidating, e.g., if they are claiming you have not paid a bill, they might use scare tactics
  • They may know some basic details about you, usually sourced through your social media or the public directory
  • They may ask you to pay a fee before you receive your product, e.g., they may claim that your parcel will not be released until you have paid a ‘tax’
  • They often pressure you into making a quick decision

What can I do if I get a cold call scam?

  • Say “no, thank you” and hang up the phone: don’t just say “I’m busy now” or they might take that as invitation to ask when you’re free and call again
  • Do not try to ‘trick’ the scammer or tell them off: they may continue to harass you
  • If you are unsure whether the call is from a scammer or a real organisation, hang up and call the organisation using their official contact number: search for the official contact number instead of using the number they provide you as that could be fake as well
  • Save any messages they sent you: take screenshots of all messages and save it before they can delete them for evidence

I have given my information/money. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If you have sent money or given your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the collected evidence

Calls or texts relating to loans, financial assistance, and online gambling

You may receive unsolicited calls or texts – both SMSes or over WhatsApp or other messaging apps – from unknown sources offering loans or financial assistance, or inviting you to gamble online. These calls and texts are likely to be associated with unlicensed moneylending and illegal gambling activities, which are serious criminal offences in Singapore

What can I do if I get such a call or text?

  • Do not reply to the call or text, or interact in any way
  • Notify the police directly by
    • Making a police report
    • Calling the National Crime Prevention Council’s ‘X Ah Long’ hotline at 1800-924-5664 (1800-X-AH-LONG)
    • Providing information using i-Witness

Email phishing scams

Similar to the cold call scam, phishing is when a scammer tries to get personal information from a person. The name comes from ‘fishing’ – scammers are using email or phone ‘bait’ to ‘fish’ for personal information amongst a huge ‘sea’ of people online.

What are examples of phishing scams?

  • Impersonating a real organisation or person: the scammer sends an email with the branding and logos of a real organisation, and asks you to fill out a form, make a payment, or some other request that would require you to provide your personal information
  • Making a personal request: the email might look very personalised, e.g., claiming that a distant relative passed away and left you a fortune

What information do they ask for?

Personal information is anything that reveals information about you, and can include:

  • Full name
  • NRIC
  • Passport number
  • Mobile phone number
  • Credit card details
  • Bank account details
  • Address
  • Account passwords

How can I spot a phishing scam?

These emails can be difficult to spot – some are obvious while others are not. In fact, some scammers make their emails less reliable on purpose (think of the spelling mistakes riddling the Nigerian prince’s plea for cash) so as to attract only the most gullible ‘fish’. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Check the ‘from’ email address: remember that all official government email addresses end in ‘.gov.sg’
  • Look out for spelling or grammar mistakes, or poor graphics
  • Be careful of emails that look official but do not address you by name
  • Be careful of emails asking you to update your details online: go to the official site directly instead of clicking on links within the email
  • Hover your mouse over any links to check the destination address: if the address does not lead you to the expected website, do not click it
  • Be careful of emails telling you that you’ve won contests you don’t remember signing up for
  • Know that no bank, financial institution, email service provider, or website administer would email you to ask for your account information, password, or PIN
  • Search online using the exact wording of the email or the email address to check for references to a common scam
  • Do not download files or open attachments in emails from someone you do not know

I have received a phishing email. What can I do?

  • Do not reply to the email
  • Report the email to the platform, e.g., you can report emails on Gmail and other popular email service providers
  • If the email is pretending to be from a real organisation, you can forward it to the organisation to alert them and help keep others safe

I have given my information. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the email for evidence

Fake receipt scams

This scam involves receiving a receipt for a good or service that you haven’t asked for. It could either be a printed invoice sent to your home, or an email that looks like it came from a real business. For example, an email claiming that you made a Netflix subscription using your Apple account. When you click the link to verify it, you enter your Apple account details into a fake site, at which point they have access to your account.

How can I spot a fake receipt scam?

  • Check your receipts: Always confirm that the goods or services have been requested and received before paying
  • Check the details: check the account details of the supplier to make sure they are the authorised ones, and check the email addresses to make sure the sender is authentic
  • Call the supplier: do not use any contact numbers provided in the receipt, but find the original number through the organisation’s Contact Us page online

I have been scammed. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately to cancel your card and make a police report using the receipt as evidence

Romance scams

The scammer pretends to befriend you to scam you. The scammer usually contacts the potential victims through social media, dating websites, or other platforms, often pretending to be someone they are not using false identities and photos. The consequences of romance scams are doubly hard, because victims must deal with both the financial loss and the psychological pain of being scammed by someone they trusted.

How can I spot a romance scam?

Romance scammers make a living out of the job, and can spend months building the ‘relationship’ before asking for sums of money. There is no definite way of spotting a scammer, but here are common signs:

  • Asks for money: making requests for money of any amount
  • Quick love: the relationship progresses very quickly
  • Personal troubles solved by money: framing personal troubles as solved only by money
  • Reluctant to meet: they are hesitant to meet face-to-face

How can I avoid being scammed?

  • Be careful about who you talk to online: be wary of people who are very loving and claim to have strong feelings for you before you have even met
  • Be careful with your money: it might be months before the topic of money is raised, but when it does, you should be on alert and keep a cool head
  • Do not respond to requests of money: since dating apps are increasingly matching people by location, people may be more likely to trust small requests for something like ‘lunch money’, which can quickly escalate to bigger scams
  • Avoid sharing personal details: do not share private information with someone you only know online and have not met face-to-face, especially in the form of photos or videos that could be used to blackmail you later
  • Contact the authorities: if you receive a message or call from someone who claims to be in trouble overseas and urgently needs you to send money, contact the police

I think I have been scammed. What can I do?

  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately to cancel the card
  • Contact the police and report the incident: although it is unlikely you will be able to get your money back, as most scams operate from overseas, they will be able to explain your options
  • Talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend, for support in this emotionally distressing time

Unwanted and unintended subscriptions

On a website or via mobile messages/applications, you might be offered a cheap or free trial for a service (e.g., unlimited access of games) for a limited time period, with a full refund if you are not satisfied by the end of the trial period. The sign-up process often involves entering your card details or being billed directly to your mobile phone subscription. You will then be signed up to an ongoing subscription without realising it, or you might know and intend to unsubscribe before the payment begins. After that, you will be automatically charged the subscription fee monthly and find that you are unable to cancel the subscription.

How can I avoid being scammed?

  • Search online for reviews of the business: almost every site has feedback online on how reliable their (un)subscription services are
  • Be careful of who you give credit card details too: it is quite common for these companies to switch from the free subscription to the premium version without informing you
  • Check the terms and conditions: read the information on the website or the mobile message/application carefully as this gives you information on how long the free subscription lasts and your ability to cancel
  • Set a reminder for when your free trial ends: remember to cancel your subscription before the trial period runs out
  • Switch to a direct debit: check if you can pay the subscription using a direct debit instead of a recurring charge on your card, as you can cancel a direct debit directly with your bank
  • Review your monthly bank or card statements: be aware of how much you are paying for your subscriptions so that you are aware of any unexpected price changes
  • If you aren’t sure, don’t sign up: if you cannot be sure that the website or service is reputable and that you will be able to stop paying when you wish, don’t start
  • Click close: if you have started the subscription process and want to stop, simple exit or close the page – do not rush to click on any buttons as that may cause you to sign up for the service

I have already signed up. What can I do?

  • Call the company: you may be on hold for a very long time, but speaking to the staff of the website or service is often the easiest way to cancel a subscription
  • Email the company: email the company to ask them to cancel your subscription, which is useful as proof that you have asked them to cancel your subscription
  • Contact your mobile provider: if the service is billed through your mobile subscription and you are unable to contact the company providing the service, approach your mobile provider with evidence that you have tried to cancel the subscription but have not been successful
  • Contact your bank: if the charge continues, you can try to contact your bank with evidence that you have tried to cancel the subscription but have not been successful
  • Cancel your card: to automatically bounce any payments made to the card, call your bank, cancel your card, and request a new one

Webcam blackmail and sextortion

Sextortion is a riding way to blackmail people online. People make friends through a dating app or another social media site, and are lured into sending sexually explicit photos or engaging in sexual activities over video chat. The person then tells them that they will send the photos or videos to their family/colleagues or release it to the public unless a ransom is paid. The BBC has made a video of their investigation of these blackmailers, who are often organised criminal gangs operating in foreign countries.

How can I avoid sextortion?

  • Be wary of friend requests from people that you do not know
  • Be careful speaking to people whom you don’t know personally
  • Be aware that video and messaging chats between two people can be recorded, even on encrypted messaging apps
  • Keep your clothes on when video chatting with people you’ve recently met
  • Be careful with personal information you publish online

I am being blackmailed. What can I do?

  • Do not pay the ransom or respond: paying the ransom often leads to more threats and requests for money. Many blackmailers often publish the videos and photos even after money is paid.
  • If you are connected to the blackmailer through any social media, your phone, or video chats like Skype, unfriend and block them, then deactivate your account
  • Report the accounts being used to the platform itself, so report him to Facebook and Skype separately
  • Report the incident to the police
  • Talk to someone you trust, like your partner, family member, or friend

You can also look at the pages on sexting and privacy for more information.