The number of online scam cases rose by 80 per cent, to around 14,960 cases in the first 11 months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, according to Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
The total amount lost to scams in the first 11 months of 2020 also increased by 64.3 per cent to S$254.3 million, compared to the same period in 2019.
This was a written response to a question posed in Parliament by Workers' Party Chair and MP for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim.
Many online scams are transnational
According to Shanmugam, the rise in scams can be attributed to high internet penetration among Singaporeans.
"Criminal syndicates, many of whom operate outside Singapore, have been quick to exploit these trends. A significant proportion of online scams reported are transnational in nature, and are therefore particularly challenging to deal with."
He said also said that the investigations required for such scam cases will have to take place outside Singapore's jurisdiction, and cooperation from other countries is necessary.
More difficult to recover monies transferred out of Singapore
The transnational nature of scams also makes it difficult to track the police's performance in investigating and solving online scams, according to Shanmugam.
As of Dec. 17, 2020, more than 14,000 reports, involving total losses of more than S$162.2 million have been referred to the police's Anti-Scam Centre (ASC), which coordinates investigations into scam-related monies.
The ASC has frozen more than 11,200 bank accounts, said Shanmugam, and recovered about S$57.7 million since its formation in June 2019.
However, he emphasised that monies that have already been transferred out Singapore is more difficult to recover for the police.
Monies relevant to investigation cannot be turned to the victims immediately
According to Shanmugam, scam monies may be seized as proceeds of crime, if the bank accounts of recipients of scam monies have been frozen by the authorities in Singapore.
The investigation officer will then typically apply for a disposal order from the Courts, after ascertaining that the money belongs to the victim in question.
"While there is no fixed timeline for this process, under Section 370 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the officer must make a report to the Court within one year after the date of seizure of the monies, or when the monies are no longer relevant for the purposes of any investigation or trial, whichever is earlier," said Shanmugam.
However, he also said that the monies cannot be returned to the victims immediately if they are still relevant for the purposes of investigation or trial, of if there is a pending court proceeding.
Transnational scam cases may delay return of victims' monies
The process of returning the victims' monies may also be delayed in certain circumstances.
This includes cases where information or evidence is required from foreign authorities, such as in transnational scams, or when the seized monies have been moved across multiple accounts.
There may also be a delay if there is a commingling of monies related with an offence, with monies that are not.
Shanmugam also brought up the situation where there are multiple claims from various parties to the same seized property, and said that delays may be expected for these cases.
In such cases, a disposal inquiry may have to be convened for the Courts to determine who should be entitled to the seized monies.
Top image via Unsplash.