More anti-scam protection for Singaporeans is coming — legal penalties for money mules aiding scammers.
These are with the proposed amendments to the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act and the Computer Misuse Act debated in Parliament this week (May 8-9).
They add to the PAP Government’s ongoing multi-pronged strategy for fighting scams.
The “I Can ACT Against Scams” campaign, public outreach sessions and an Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) partnership with telcos which blocks 16 million calls monthly are just some of these efforts.
Penalties regarding rash and negligent bank account usage and Singpass sharing
The amendments, once they come into effect in six months, will first specifically set rules on exactly who can use bank accounts and how.
“Second, the amendments will empower the Police to act more effectively against those who blatantly ignore these guardrails and abuse — or allow to be abused — their Singpass credentials,” explained Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo to Parliament.
So a money mule can now be charged for rash money-laundering, as well as negligent money-laundering.
These are when the mule transacts money despite suspicions about the transaction and either does not a) make further inquiries to allay those suspicions and b) continues despite red flags about it.
“Person C responded to a job advertisement by a company. C is told he will earn $100 a day for using his own bank account to receive money from the company’s customers and transfer the money to the company’s bank account,” gave Minister Teo as an example.
“All this from a purported employer who he does not ever meet.”
So now: Since C did not ask why he was using his personal account to transact money from the company’s customers, and did not take steps to find out where all this money originated and headed — these make him liable under the new section, 55A, of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.
And if people share or rent out their Singpass account to suspicious others, that will become highly illegal too.
Scammers and syndicates can use these accounts to open bank accounts for scam money transfers while hiding their own tracks.
“As a result, these scam syndicates are extremely difficult to pursue,” said Minister Teo.
“We must do everything we can to prevent scams from harming Singaporeans.”
The Bill protects Singaporeans
Just to reiterate for nuance, the measures against Singpass sharing do not apply when the Singpass holder proves that he or she reasonably believes “that the purpose of the disclosure or provision is to use or access Singpass to carry out a transaction in the identity of the user for a lawful purpose,” as the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill sets out.
In other words (and in everyday terms), we can still help Ah Ma and Ah Kong pay their bills and book appointments with their Singpass.
“The provisions of this Bill are not targeted at persons who had no reasonable grounds to believe they were dealing with criminal proceeds or facilitating offences,” emphasised Minister Teo (May 9).
Her response came after questions by PAP MPs Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang SMC), Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok SMC), Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) about the Bill’s scope.
The PAP continues combatting scams
Meanwhile, there are other ways where the PAP Government is helping Singaporeans from all walks of life against the regional scourge of scams.
PAP MPs have hosted public outreach sessions with police officers in their constituencies and the Government’s ScamShield popular (550, 000 downloads) app has filtered out over 7.4 million suspicious scam-related SMSes since 2020.
The Police set up the Anti-Scam Command in March 2022 too, which consolidates resources and anti-scam resources across units.
“Staff from the major banks are co-located with police so that all parties can quickly act together to freeze scam-tainted accounts,” added Minister Teo.
These combine with the ACT and IMDA call-blocking mentioned earlier.
“In general, my advice to the public is: if you are told something very bad has happened to you or your loved ones, pause and think,” said the Minister.
“Scammers like to make people panic because that is when we tend to use our best judgement.”
What when we are told something too good to be true?
“Also pause and think: Scammers also know that greed can make fools of geniuses,” said Minister Teo.
“To summarise, we would like everyone to be vigilant and take proper care of our payment accounts and Singpass accounts.”