'Fraudsters have never let national boundaries stop them': Singapore inks international accord for recovery of fraudulent funds

'Fraudsters have never let national boundaries stop them': Singapore inks international accord for recovery of fraudulent funds
Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo attended the inaugural Global Fraud Summit in London.
PHOTO: UK Government

Singapore has joined hands with several other nations to recover fraudulent funds. 

The agreement was cemented in a communique signed on Monday (March 11) at the inaugural Global Fraud Summit organised by the United Kingdom. 

Singapore was represented by Minister for Communications & Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo. 

Teo was joined by more than 150 representatives from governments, regulators, non-profit groups and industry representatives during the two-day event from March 11 to 12. 

The agreement, signed by Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, focuses on the cross-jurisdiction recovery of funds, and the development an international approach to tackle fraud against individuals and businesses. 

"Transnational fraud, such as scams, is a growing concern for many jurisdictions across the world.

"The Communique is an important step forward to strengthen collaboration with other jurisdictions and key partners such as the Financial Action Task Force and Interpol, so we can tackle fraud collectively," said Teo during the summit. 

"International collaboration is a critical component of Singapore’s strategy to combat fraud, and we are committed to doing our part – both domestically and on the global stage." 

In her speech, Teo also stressed the importance of international cooperation when it comes to tackling fraud. 

"Fraudsters have never let national boundaries stop them. Now, technologies are helping them move farther and faster. This will therefore take much more international cooperation and public-private partnerships." 

To foster this, Teo suggested strengthening transnational enforcement and recovery, engaging the industry to adopt stronger safeguards, and for countries to proactively share information with one another.

Elaborating more on the recovery of fraudulent funds in an interview with the media on Wednesday, Teo said that Singapore and its counterparts are working to develop protocols to share information which will aid asset recovery in the event of scams. 

During the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)'s Committee of Supply Debate in Parliament in early March, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam shared that scams were the main driver of crime in 2023

Last year alone, there were over 46,000 reported scam cases, with victims losing more than $650 million in total - a nearly 50 per cent increase from 2022. 

Domestically, Singapore has been collaborating with telcos and banks to strengthen Singapore's communications and banking channels. 

The implementation of the Online Criminal Harms Act will also grant the police powers to issue directions to online platforms to prevent scam accounts and content from reaching or interacting with Singapore users. 

MHA will also be rolling out a new law to punish the abuse of local SIM cards for scams. 

Singapore's strategy to eliminate fraud 

During the summit, Teo also shared the three tenets of Singapore's approach to tackle fraud — being agile, backed by the law, and collaborative efforts. 

Being agile means working quickly because criminal syndicates change tactics fast, said Teo. 

Under the Anti-Scam Command, banks in Singapore work closely with the police to carry out funds tracing and freeze scam-tainted bank accounts quickly. 

In 2023, the Anti-Scam Command froze more than 19,600 bank accounts and was able to recover more than $100 million in scam losses. 

Secondly, being backed by the law means that Singapore constantly updates its laws to better protect victims, as well as to deter and penalise fraudsters, shared the Minister. 

Thirdly, the government also collaborates with agencies across several domains. 

An example of a successful inter-agency collaboration was when the police worked with many sectoral regulators to conduct probes and reviews to collect information about the money laundering case in August 2023. 

"Last year, for the first time in five years, scam losses in Singapore did not spike further.

"Likewise for ransomware cases, there was a reprieve. While losses due to scams and ransomware are still considerable, the upward trends have hopefully been arrested and give us room to push back further," Teo said.

READ ALSO: No 'magic bullet' against scams, says Shanmugam as MHA ramps up efforts to protect Singaporeans


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