Asia

8,600 phone numbers blocked and 1.4m SMSes reported via ScamShield: Desmond Tan

SINGAPORE – About 8,600 phone numbers have been blocked by the scam prevention application ScamShield since it was launched in November last year.

And about 1.4 million SMSes have been reported via the app, which uses artificial intelligence to identify and filter scam messages, as well as block phone calls, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan on Wednesday (Aug 25).

Mr Tan was speaking at a national webinar on scams, which was organised by the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

The webinar featured presentations and panel discussions with participants from various government agencies and academia, as well as from the finance and e-commerce industries.

Topics included sophisticated techniques employed by scammers, ongoing initiatives by government agencies and various industries to combat scams, and what members of the public can do to avoid becoming scam victims.

A recording of the webinar, which was held on Wednesday morning, is available for viewing on MHA’s Facebook page.

In his opening speech, Mr Tan said the authorities have made significant progress in anti-scam efforts.

These include developing ScamShield, which is currently available only on iOS devices. A version for Android systems is being developed.

Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said the app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.

He noted that the Anti-Scam Division (ASD) of the police was set-up in March this year as the “nerve centre” for investigating scam-related cases, with a focus on detection, disruption and loss mitigation.

“The Anti-Scam Centre, which is under the ambit of the ASD, recovered close to $66 million for the first half of this year alone,” he said.

The division has also been working closely with foreign law enforcement as many scams involve overseas syndicates.


Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan speaking at the national webinar on scams on Aug 25, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS

“For example, in June (this year), through strong information-sharing and collaboration by the ASD, six transnational syndicates perpetrating job scams, Internet love scams and China official impersonation scams were busted by the Royal Malaysia Police, the Hong Kong Police Force and the Taiwan police,” Mr Tan said.

He said the authorities have worked closely with industry partners such as banks, telcos and e-commerce platforms to protect people against scams.

For example, the ASD had collaborated with more than 30 financial institutions to mitigate scam losses by freezing compromised accounts within one day of the scams being reported. This allowed for more than $57 million in scam proceeds to be recovered last year.

At a panel discussion in Wednesday’s webinar, MHA’s chief psychologist Majeed Khader cited experiences shared by various scam victims on how they considered suicide after they were duped.

The victims not only sustained financial losses, but also suffered “the loss of human dignity, embarrassment, (and) shame”, said Dr Majeed, who is also director of the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre.

Later in the discussion, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police (DAC) Aileen Yap spoke about a case in which a victim had committed suicide.


Panellists in one of the discussions at the national webinar on scams on Aug 25, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS

DAC Yap, assistant director of the ASD, said he was a foreign worker who had fallen for a tech support scam.

The victim was discovered hanging in his home here by his daughter and his brother-in-law.

“He was brought down – (his) pulse was very weak – (and he) passed away in the hospital a few hours later,” she said.

 National Crime Prevention Council chairman Gerald Singham, in his closing speech at the webinar, said members of the public should have open conversations about scams with their loved ones.

“Psychologists have found that those who have successfully evaded… scams have done so because they have greater social support and sought help,” he said.

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