Alarming surge in online scams

SINGAPORE - Overall crime for the first half of the year rose for the first time since 2010, fuelled by an alarming surge in online scams - from cyber extortion to cases of cheating involving the buying of goods on the Internet.

Cases of rape also went up, with the police putting this down to more cases of girls under 14 having consensual sex with other youngsters. Regardless of whether there is consent, such acts are deemed statutory rape.

There was a total of around 15,200 crimes recorded from January to June, a jump of 1.4 per cent from the same period last year.

The increase came despite sizeable drops in other types of crime. Housebreaking and related crimes, for instance, hit a 10-year low, with cases falling by more than a third.

Loan-sharking and related harassment cases also fell by 32 per cent, from 4,729 cases to 3,235, thanks to a clampdown. More will be done to bring this down further.

The police also highlighted the four key areas it wanted to tackle this year: cheating involving e-commerce, cyber extortion, serious hurt, which went up by 5.3 per cent, and rape.

Online cheating rocketed by more than four times to 504 cases - up from just 96 in the same period last year.

This included a jump of 20 times in cases of people being duped into making multiple payments for Internet purchases. Around 300 cases involving $237,000 were reported for the first six months, up from 13 cases involving $28,000 in the same period last year.

The scam typically involves buyers of smartphones and tablets, who are asked for further payments to solve delivery problems.

Cases of love scams, in which victims are persuaded to transfer money to foreigners they fell for online, went up from 22 cases in the first half of last year to 82. More than $3 million was cheated this time around, compared to $1.7 million.

Men were the prime target for cyber extortion involving female suspects, who coaxed them into undressing and performing indecent acts in front of a webcam and then threatening to post compromising photos or videos online. This went up from 38 cases to 132.

Because many of these online cases involved crooks overseas, Assistant Commissioner of Police Melvin Yong, who leads its Public Affairs Department, said prevention through education was the best cure.

"The challenge is to find a way to quickly spread information and alerts on scams so that we can prevent the next victim from falling prey. The best vaccine against online scams is to immunise our community through public awareness."

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