Big rise in online scams raises overall crime figures

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

Cases of rape also went up by half, with the police putting this down to more girls under 14 having consensual sex with youth offenders. 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 hit a 10-year low, with cases falling by more than a third. A clampdown saw loan-sharking and related harassment cases fall by 31.6 per cent, from 4,729 cases to 3,235, and more will be done to bring this down further.

The National Crime Prevention Council is planning a follow-up education campaign to deter people from going to illegal moneylenders, after the first launched in late 2012 proved a success.

Police are also working with banks on a pilot scheme which will see anyone convicted of being involved with unlicensed moneylending barred from using ATM and Internet banking facilities.

Police yesterday highlighted the four key areas they want 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 huge 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 being asked for more payments to solve delivery issues.

Cases of love scams, in which victims are persuaded to transfer money to foreigners they fell for online, rose from 22 in the first half of last year to 82. Over $3 million was cheated this time compared with $1.7 million before.

Men were the prime target for cyber extortion; women coax them into performing indecent acts on a Web cam, then threaten to post photos or videos online. This rose from 38 cases to 132.

Because many of these online cases involve 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."

Mr Eugene Teo, senior manager of security response at IT security firm Symantec Singapore, said that more consumers have jumped on the online bandwagon while neglecting cyber security, making them attractive prey.

This article was published on Aug 14 in The Straits Times.

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