What are online impersonation scams?
In online impersonation scams, scammers may pretend to be government officials or representatives from banks, credit card companies, and telecommunications companies, among others. Scammers may also hijack a friend or relative’s social media account by hacking into it to gain control, or they could spoof these accounts by creating a different account and duplicating the content in order to pretend to be a family member or a friend.
After gaining your trust, scammers ask for personal information such as your NRIC number, internet banking log-in details, bank account numbers, or One-Time Passwords (OTP), through emails or messages. Scammers may also trick you into installing malware and viruses on your device through suspicious links or file attachments, to extract your private data.
Their goal is to lure you into giving up your personal information so they can access your accounts, make fraudulent purchases and impersonate or blackmail you. They may also pressure you into making money transfers.
According to CNA, victims of impersonation scams from Singapore were cheated of at least S$38 million from January to November 2019. In these cases, scammers pretended to be government officials, staff of telecommunications companies, law enforcement officers or the victim’s friend or family member, using spoofed social media accounts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have come up with new variants of existing impersonation scams. For instance, in a twist of the common ‘Chinese officials’ impersonation scam, they now have someone posing as an official from Singapore’s Ministry of Health who will claim that China officials have seized shipments registered under the victim’s name containing contraband medication to treat the coronavirus. They will then ask the victim for their NRIC number, passport details, and Internet banking credentials to clear their names.
Another COVID-19 related scam has scammers impersonating Ministry of Finance office to con individuals looking to register for the Government’s COVID-19 Relief benefits. They will ask their victims to provide their bank account details in this new scam.
How can I spot an online impersonation scam?
- Be wary if you receive requests supposedly from government officials, such as the police, immigration or court officers, asking for personal information, such as your bank details, credit card details or passport number, via email or messages. Scammers often impersonate official authorities to gain your trust.
- Scammers may also impersonate telecommunications, banks or courier companies and claim that there are urgent issues with your bank account, phone subscription or a problem with a parcel you sent or are expecting to receive. They may then ask for your account passwords and OTPs or request for a money transfer.
- Another trick that scammers have up their sleeve is to hack or impersonate your friends’ or family members’ social media accounts and ask you for information or money. These may come in the form of offers for lucky draw winnings or requests for financial assistance. Be wary if your friend or family member makes unusual requests over social media. It is best to call them to verify the requests.
- Scammers may throw you off guard by threatening you with a fine, legal costs, cancellation of service or even arrest if you do not comply.
- Scammers often use pressure tactics to stress you into making a rushed decision or giving up information.
How can I guard against it?
- If you’re unsure of the caller’s identity, verify the request by calling the organisation’s or business’ main phone line.
- Do not disclose important information such as your bank details, credit card details, OTPs or passport number.
- Never share your OTP with others, as it will allow them to access your bank and social media accounts.
- A government agency or trusted business will never ask you for such information over the phone, through automated voice messages, or via social messaging applications.
- Many scam calls originate from overseas. To counter these scams, IMDA has worked with thetelecommunications companies to identify spoofed numbers disguised as local numbers. All calls that come from overseas will have a ‘+’ prefix, and local calls will not come with the ‘+’ prefix.
- Be wary of requests to pay by unusual methods, such as gift cards, prepaid cards, wire transfers or bitcoin. An official or trusted business will never use such payment methods.
- Do not click on attachments and links in the message before the source is verified. Suspicious messages often contain spelling or grammatical errors, and are sent by bogus emails using personal email addresses instead of official business addresses.
- Do not give anyone remote access to your devices unless they have proven to be an official representative of the company or organisation they claim to represent.
Most importantly, if at any point you feel uncertain about the nature of the call or the identity of the caller, stop all communications and verify if the source is reliable. Do not be pressured or rushed into a quick decision.
What can you do if you think you’ve fallen for an impersonation scam?
- Call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 1800-722-6688, which operates Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
- If you require urgent police assistance, call 999.
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