People who use S'pore local SIM cards illicitly can now be fined & jailed

New law.

Julia Yee | April 03, 2024, 10:12 AM



A new bill passed in parliament on Apr. 2, 2024, criminalising people who hand over their local SIM cards to another person for criminal activities.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo laid out the details of the law during the second reading of a law enforcement bill meant to address the prevalence of SIM card-related scams in Singapore.

These scams include victims receiving scam calls and SMSes from locally-registered numbers, as well as local numbers being used by scammers to set up WhatsApp and Telegram accounts to target victims, or receive monies via PayNow.

Under the new law, people who give others their local SIM cards or their particulars to sign up for local SIM cards are called "irresponsible subscribers" — unless it's for legitimate purposes, such as for their family.

Offenders may be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both.

"Strengthening deterrence and accountability"

Teo revealed that over 23,000 local mobile lines were involved in scams and other cybercrimes in 2023 — four times the number in 2021.

Such cases resulted in a loss of about S$400 million, three times the amount lost in 2021.

"But enforcement after the fact is scant comfort for the victims," stated Teo.

"We want to go upstream, to prevent the scam from happening in the first place, by strengthening deterrence and accountability in the use of local SIM cards."

Hence, new offences were proposed to target three groups of people who misuse local SIM cards to facilitate scams.

Irresponsible subscribers

"Every SIM card in the hands of a scammer is a weapon," Teo said.

She shared that in 2021, a single local mobile line was linked to 48 job scam reports, with losses amounting to approximately S$1 million.

However, Teo continued, the current laws "put the onus" on the police to prove that the subscribers knowingly gave away their local SIM cards for unlawful purposes.

This was hard for the police, as culprits could "easily claim that they were unaware of the consequences of their actions".

Such subscribers will now be deemed liable if they:

  • Gave away a local SIM card for any gain
  • Did not take reasonable steps to find out the identity and physical location of the recipient of the local SIM card
  • Did not take reasonable steps to find out the recipient’s purpose for obtaining the local SIM card

This prevents people from being able to "simply claim ignorance as a defence", Teo said.

Not targeting innocents

Teo added that it wasn't the government's intent to criminalise people who give away their local SIM cards for legitimate purposes.

She also clarified that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) would "carefully consider each case on its own facts and circumstances and will only pursue prosecution if there is a public interest to do so".

For instance, should an elderly person's particulars be misused to register for SIM cards, the elderly person would not be liable for an offence if it is found that he had "no reasonable grounds to believe that his particulars would be used".


The second group of people targeted by the law are those who receive or possess local SIM cards intending to use or supply them for "unlawful purposes".

This also applies to those who supply local SIM cards while "knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe" that they would be used for illegal activities.

They would be deemed liable without the prosecution having to prove knowledge or criminal intent, if the SIM cards were used for crime, or if they kept at least 11 SIM cards.

When questioned how the government decided on the threshold of 11 cards, Teo said there was "no magic formula", but that "setting a low threshold" is important for "deterrence".

There's "no good reason" for someone to hoard large numbers of unregistered SIM cards or buy and sell ones registered under another person's name "because there are legitimate ways to buy and sell SIM cards", Teo supplied.

Errant retailers

A number of retailers have used stolen or false credentials to register local SIM cards, which they then sold to scammers.

"Such errant retailers should be held accountable," Teo stated.

"Not only do they tarnish the reputation of their peers, their actions cause many victims to suffer losses."

Previously, such retailers might simply lose their contracts with the mobile service provider. But Teo called for a "stronger deterrence".

The new law forbids people to "facilitate fraudulent registrations" while "knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe" that the local SIM card would be used for unlawful purposes.

Retailers may also be liable if the local SIM card is proven to have subsequently been used for unlawful purposes.

"The vast majority of law-abiding retailers need not be concerned. The offence does not affect them," Teo assured.

Middlemen and errant retailers face enhanced penalties for repeat offending

Middlemen and errant retailers face the same penalty as "irresponsible subscribers" for their first offence.

However, for their second or subsequent offences, the penalty will be a fine of up to $20,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

Is the law too complicated?

Teo admitted it would indeed be better to "streamline" such laws.

However, she continued, "At this time, this is not a luxury we can afford".

"We are still evolving so quickly and police resources are so stretched. This is a trade-off parliament must consider — whether to prioritise the streamlining of laws or quickly push in place levers to act against the scammers."

"If we ask the victims, the answer will be very clear," she stated, adding that parliament should accept this trade-off for now.

In any case, the offences will only come into force in about six months to allow the public to familiarise themselves with the offences, Teo said.

Top images via MCI and Brett Jordan/Unsplash