PM Lee Hsien Loong on how he himself was victim of an online scam

The Government is very concerned that more Singaporeans are falling prey to scams involving huge sums of money, and it is doing all it can to combat the menace, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

About $660 million is lost in scams annually, with Singaporeans losing nearly $2 million a day to such crimes, he said during an interview with the Chinese media at the Istana on April 28.

“It is earth-shaking to be robbed of that amount daily, but it is happening on the internet every day,” PM Lee said. “This is the hard-earned money of the people and could even be an elderly person’s life savings meant for his last 20 to 30 years. His money is wiped out overnight.”

“We’ve done what we can, but it is still heartbreaking, and we are still thinking what more can be done to help the victims,” he added. “Maybe it is also about how we can prevent ourselves from being scammed.”

PM Lee shared that he himself had been the victim of a fake website, where an item he ordered never arrived.

“I’ve been scammed,” he said. “I thought it was real, but it didn’t come for a long time.”

“The online world is a colourful one, but it is also a big headache,” he added.

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More than 90 per cent of Singaporeans have internet access. While it is important to have online connectivity to maintain a normal relationship with people, fake news and deepfakes have made it difficult to decipher truth from falsehood, he said.

Children should be taught to ask questions when they see a piece of news, such as whether it is credible, who sent it, what is the motive of the sender and if there is a need to verify the truth with reliable news sources, he added.

“If you see a piece of news stating that Lee Hsien Loong is selling Bitcoin, you better go check, because it is bogus unless there is something wrong with me.”

PM Lee’s identity has been used by scammers in various schemes. Some people have alerted him to such scams by sending him screenshots and expressing their anger

“It has happened so often to me that I don’t react to such scams any more,” he said. “I told them: ‘Don’t be angry, calm down, this is a recurring issue, and we will take action.’”

While he occasionally takes to his Facebook page to remind everyone to be careful of scammers, he cannot keep up with the fake news.

“My Facebook cannot be like your bank app, dispatching security advisories to everyone daily.”  Falling victim to scams does not mean one is stupid, and even intelligent people can be scammed, he said.

“Sometimes, the bank staff may step in to help you from losing your life savings to scams. You may be scolding them, asking: ‘Why are you stopping me? I know what I’m doing, do you think I have Alzheimer’s disease?’” said PM Lee.

“You may not have Alzheimer’s, but you have fallen for a scam unknowingly. This is a very serious problem.”

The media also needs to guard itself from reporting fake news unwittingly, he said.

“It is very likely to happen, because even with your vigilance, it may slip through the cracks one day.”

The scammers are always coming up with new and better tricks, he said.

“This is an ever-evolving problem, and we don’t have a strategy to deal with it every time. It is something we have to keep tackling, and other countries are facing the same challenge.”

The problem is widespread elsewhere, including in China and probably in the neighbouring countries too. Their numbers may seem lower because many scams go unreported, PM Lee added.

“In Singapore, scams are reported to the police, so there is hope that we can manage this problem.”

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