Police Has Recovered About $2 Million & Frozen 121 Bank Accounts in OCBC Phishing Scam

With the wave of phishing scams happening, the past two months have seen banks ramping up efforts to protect their customers.

You might have had to acknowledge scam prevention measures every time you open a banking app. Or perhaps you were even hesitant about making money transfers.

Well, the situation seems to finally be looking up, especially for those who fell to the scammers’ tactics.

$2 Million Recovered

As of 13 February, the police have frozen 121 local bank accounts and recovered about $2 million lost by victims in phishing scams targeting OCBC Bank customers, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

Providing an update on the ongoing investigations into the OCBC phishing scams which took place last December, Mr Tan said that about $2.2 million of victims’ funds have been traced to 89 overseas bank accounts.

“Many of the scam websites used in the phishing scams were hosted by web hosting companies based overseas,” said Mr Tan.

At least 107 local and 171 overseas Internet protocol (IP) addresses were linked to the unauthorised access of the victims’ internet banking accounts.

The police have commenced investigations into the local IP addresses linked to the scams and the owners of the local money mule accounts.

The police are also working with Interpol and foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate the beneficiaries of the funds transferred overseas and the hosts of the scam websites.

Increasing Number of Phishing Scams in Recent Years

Phishing scams involving SMSes that impersonated banks in Singapore have increased significantly, from 149 cases in 2020 to 1,021 last year.

The OCBC scams were the largest case involving such fraudulent schemes, with some customers even losing their life savings.

Overall, there were 23,931 cases of scams reported last year, of which 5,020 were phishing scam cases.

Mr Tan said that people aged between 20 and 39 formed the largest group of victims of phishing scams and those related to jobs, e-commerce, investments, loans, China official impersonation and fake gambling platforms.

In other aspects, the largest group of victims of social media impersonation scams and those involving Internet love and fake friend calls were those aged between 40 and 59.

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Difficult to Retrieve Money

Unfortunately, the police are extremely stretched, with officers trying to cope with increasing workload and expectations without a proportionate increase in manpower.

But the Anti-Scam Centre has frozen around 24,000 bank accounts suspected of being involved in scam activities and recovered about $160 million in scam proceeds since it was set up by the police in 2019.

The amount recovered included part of $17 million lost since 2020 to about 1,300 cases of phishing scams involving spoofed SMSes that impersonated banks here.

Mr Tan emphasised that recovery of money lost to scams is difficult, adding that where such sums have been recovered by the police, it involved the help of financial institutions.

Improving Anti-scam Enforcement

Additionally, the police will be forming an Anti-Scam Command this year to consolidate expertise in scams across all police units, thereby improving coordination of anti-scam enforcement and investigations.

The police uses technology to automate manual work processes in its fight against scams, including the generation of electronic production orders to banks for the freezing of bank accounts associated with scams.

The police is also using other technology, such as the ScamShield app, to crowdsource information on scam calls and SMSes.

Currently, ScamShield has been downloaded about 257,000 times.

About 3.7 million SMSes and calls have been identified as potential scams by the in-app algorithm and by user reports through the app, while about 15,500 phone numbers have been blocked.

While ScamShield is currently only available for iOS devices, Mr Tan said an Android version is planned to be released in the next few months.

Protecting Your Money

Still, the best method to protect yourself (and your money) is to remain vigilant. Here are some general tips:

  • Never click on links provided in suspicious e-mails and SMSes
  • Always type the Bank’s URL directly into the address bar of a web browser or use the Bank’s official mobile banking app
  • Do not divulge confidential information (e.g. your banking login credentials or OTPs) to anyone, or key in your banking login credentials into unverified webpages.
  • Do not transfer money to people you do not know. When in doubt, get advice from a family member or friend.
  • Download the ScamShield app – a mobile app by the authorities in Singapore that blocks unsolicited messages and calls

To find out more about scams, check out some of the videos we made with the Singapore Police Force.

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Featured Image: footageclips / Shutterstock.com