16-year-old among 19 suspects in Singapore investigated for WhatsApp impersonation scams

Scammers would impersonate the original users of compromised WhatsApp accounts and get victims to loan them money. - PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO via The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: Nineteen people are being investigated for their suspected involvement in WhatsApp impersonation scams, following an islandwide anti-scam enforcement operation conducted between Nov 15 and Nov 24.

Preliminary investigations by the police revealed that the 19 individuals had allegedly facilitated scams by handing over their bank accounts, Internet banking or Singpass credentials to criminals involved in WhatsApp impersonation scams.

They did so in exchange for between S$200 and S$3,400 in payment, or for loans which they did not eventually receive, said the police in a statement on Nov 26.

The 13 men and six women are aged between 16 and 50, the police added.

In these WhatsApp impersonation scams, criminals would use compromised WhatsApp accounts, obtained through the use of fake WhatsApp Web phishing websites, to reach out to family members, friends or associates in the account’s contact lists.

Scammers would impersonate the original users of these accounts and get victims to loan them money. They would do so by claiming that they urgently needed the cash for themselves to pay for purchases, or to help a friend or relative with an urgent need, such as medical emergencies.

They might even claim that their bank accounts had been restricted in some form, such as through exceeded transfer limits, to justify their requests for money.

Victims would then be asked to transfer money to unfamiliar bank accounts or PayNow numbers supposedly belonging to the compromised users’ families, friends or associates. The scammers may also ask their victims to provide a screenshot showing the transfer in order to request for more money.

Victims would only realise they had been scammed after they checked in with their friends or family members.

At least 93 victims have fallen prey to this specific scam variant, with total losses amounting to at least $176,000, said police, adding that their investigations are ongoing.

Since November 2023, at least 237 victims have fallen prey to social media impersonation scams in general, with total losses amounting to at least $606,000, according to police.

An individual found guilty of acquiring benefits from criminal conduct under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act can be jailed up to 10 years, fined $500,000, or both.

Those found guilty of cheating by deceiving banks into opening bank accounts that were not meant for their own use can be jailed for up to three years, fined, or both.

The crime of relinquishing one’s bank account login details carries a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. For disclosing one’s Singpass credentials, those found guilty can be jailed up to three years, fined up to $10,000 or both.

The police said they will spare no effort to track down cyber criminals responsible for perpetrating social media impersonation scams, and will take tough enforcement actions against them.

“To avoid being an accomplice in these crimes, members of the public should always reject seemingly attractive money-making opportunities promising fast and easy payouts for the use of their Singpass accounts, bank accounts, or for allowing their personal bank accounts to be used to receive and transfer money for others,” said the police, reminding people that individuals will be held accountable if they are found to be linked to such crimes.

For more information on scams, members of the public can visit www.scamalert.sg or call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 1800-722-6688.

Anyone with information on such scams may call the police Hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit information online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness. All information will be kept strictly confidential. - The Straits Times/ANN

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Singapore , Cops , Major Investogation , WhatsApp , Scam


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