1. Cold Call Scams
Although this is technically not an online scam, it is one of the most common scams in Singapore. Cold call scammers contact you on your home or mobile phone and try to sell you fake products, or pretend to be from a government agency. Their goal is to get either personal information or money from you.
How can I spot a cold call scam?
- The call will be unexpected
- Depending on the type of scam, the caller may be friendly or intimidating, e.g., if they are claiming you have not paid a bill, they might use scare tactics
- They may know some details about you, usually sourced through your social media
- They may ask you to pay a fee before you receive your product, e.g., they may claim that your parcel will not be released until you have paid a ‘tax’
- They often pressure you into making a quick decision
What can I do if I get a cold call scam?
- Say “no, thank you” and hang up the phone: don’t just say “I’m busy now” or they might take that as invitation to ask when you’re free and call again
- Do not try to ‘trick’ the scammer or tell them off: they may continue to harass you
- If you are unsure whether the call is from a scammer or a real organisation, hang up and call the organisation using their official contact number: search online for the official contact number instead of using any number they provide you as that could be fake as well
- Save any messages they sent you online: take screenshots of all messages and save it before they can delete them for evidence
I have given my information/money. What can I do?
- If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
- If you have sent money or given your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the collected evidence
2. Phishing scams
Similar to the cold call scam, phishing is when a scammer tries to get personal information from a person. The name comes from ‘fishing’ – scammers are using email or phone ‘bait’ to ‘fish’ for personal information amongst a huge ‘sea’ of people online.
What are examples of phishing scams?
- Impersonating a real organisation or person: the scammer sends an email with the branding and logos of a real organisation, and asks you to fill out a form, make a payment, or some other request that would require you to provide your personal information
- Making a personal request: the email might look very personalised, e.g., claiming that a distant relative passed away and left you a fortune
How can I spot a phishing scam?
These emails can be difficult to spot – some are obvious while others are not. In fact, some scammers make their emails less reliable on purpose (think of the spelling mistakes riddling the Nigerian prince’s plea for cash) so as to attract only the most gullible ‘fish’. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Check the ‘from’ email address: remember that all official government email addresses end in ‘.gov.sg’
- Look out for spelling or grammar mistakes, or poor graphics
- Be careful of emails that look official but do not address you by name
3. Fake receipt scams
This scam involves receiving a receipt for a good or service that you haven’t asked for. It could either be a printed invoice sent to your home, or an email that looks like it came from a real business. For example, an email claiming that you made a Netflix subscription using your Apple account. When you click the link to verify it, you enter your Apple account details into a fake site, at which point they have access to your account.
How can I spot a fake receipt scam?
- Be careful of receipts: Always confirm that the goods or services have been requested and received before paying
- Check the details: check the account details of the supplier to make sure they are the authorised ones, and check the email addresses to make sure the sender is authentic
- Call the supplier: do not use any contact numbers provided in the receipt, but find the original number through the organisation’s Contact Us page online
I have been scammed. What can I do?
- If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
- If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the receipt as evidence
4. Unwanted subscriptions
On the website, you might be offered a cheap or free trial for a month with a full refund if you are not satisfied at the end of the month. The sign-up process often involves entering your card details. You will then be signed up to an ongoing subscription without realising it, or you might know and intend to unsubscribe before the payment begins. After that, you will be automatically charged the subscription fee monthly and find that you are unable to cancel the subscription.
How can I avoid being scammed?
- Search online for reviews of the business: almost every site has feedback online on how reliable their (un)subscription services are
- Be careful of who you give credit card details too: it is quite common for these companies to switch from the free subscription to the premium version without informing you
- Check the terms and conditions: this gives you information on how long the free subscription lasts and your ability to cancel
- Set a reminder for when your free trial ends: remember to cancel your subscription before the trial period runs out
- Switch to a direct debit: check if you can pay the subscription using a direct debit instead of a recurring charge on your card, as you can cancel a direct debit directly with your bank
- Review your monthly bank or card statements: be aware of how much you are paying for your subscriptions so that you are aware of any unexpected price changes
- If you aren’t sure, don’t sign up: if you cannot be sure that the site is reputable and that you will be able to stop paying when you wish, don’t start
I have already signed up. What can I do?
- Call the company: you might be on hold for a very long time, but speaking to the staff of the site is often the easiest way to cancel a subscription
- Email the company: email the company to ask them to cancel your subscription, which is useful as proof that you have asked them to cancel your subscription
- Contact your bank: if the charge continues, you can try to contact your bank with evidence you have tried to cancel the subscription but have not been successful
- Cancel your card: to automatically bounce any payments made to the card, call your bank, cancel your card, and request a new one
5. Webcam blackmail and sextortion
Sextortion is an increasingly popular way to blackmail people online. If you make friends through a dating app or a social media site, you could be lured into sending sexually explicit photos or engaging in sexual activities over video chat. The scammer then tells you that they will send the photos or videos to your family/colleagues or release it to the public unless a ransom is paid. The BBC has made a video of their investigation of these blackmailers, who are often organised criminal gangs operating in foreign countries.
How can I avoid sextortion?
- Be wary of friend requests from people that you do not know
- Be careful speaking to people whom you don’t know personally
- Do not trust people you do not know well with photos or videos of yourself, especially ones that could later be used to blackmail you
- Know that even video chats and Snapchats between two people can be recorded
- This might seem like a joke, but try to keep your clothes on when video chatting with people you’ve recently met
I am being blackmailed. What can I do?
- Do not pay the ransom or respond: paying the ransom often leads to more threats and requests for money and many blackmailers often publish the videos and photos even after money is paid
- If you are connected to the blackmailer through any social media, your phone, or video chats like Skype, unfriend and block them, then deactivate your account
- Report the accounts being used to the platform itself, e.g., report the blackmailer to Facebook and Skype separately
- Report the incident to the police
- Talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend, for support in this emotionally distressing time
1. What are examples of personal information?
- Full name
- Phone number
- Date of birth
- NRIC number
- Email address
2. When might I share personal information?
There are several activities online which require some disclosure of your personal information, including:
- Registering: signing up for sites often requires a name and email address, but you may sometimes be asked for your gender, date of birth, and more, but a red asterisk (*) often marks out the fields you must enter to register
- Shopping: sites may ask for further details to verify your identity, process payments, and make deliveries
- Contests: these often require you to share extensive personal information, including your interests, which are then used by sellers to promote their goods or services.
3. How can I protect my personal information?
- Only use secure websites when sharing personal, and especially financial, information: look at the URL bar and check that it begins with https:// and has a ‘locked’ padlock symbol on the left, which indicates that your data is encrypted
- Make sure that the websites are authentic by checking the URL address: there are many fake government websites trying to get your NRIC or passport number, and fake banking websites trying to get your financial information
- Read user agreements and privacy policies: try not to give your email address to organisations that sell your information so as to prevent spam emails from flooding your inbox
- Never share your password with anyone
- Use a different password for each online account, and change them regularly
- Set a strong password, which are more than 8 characters long, and include numbers, symbols, and both lowercase and uppercase letters. Here is how you can create a strong password:
- Think of a sentence with at least 8 words (Jack and Jill went up the hill)
- Take the first letter of each word (jajwuth)
- Change some letters to uppercase (JajwUth)
- Change some letters to symbols (J&jwUth)
- Add some numbers (J&jwUth2)
4. Someone has used my information. What can I do?
- If someone has stolen your card details, contact your bank to cancel your card and ask them to issue you a new one
- If someone has stolen your bank details and stolen money, contact your bank and the police to report the theft, and your bank can advise you on your options
- If someone has stolen your password, change it on all affected platforms immediately
- If you are constantly receiving spam emails, try to block the senders of the emails, but if the problem persists, you may have to create a new email address
- If someone has used your personal information to harm you – such as by stealing your identity, or threatening to visit and harm you or your family – contact the authorities at 999
1. How much screen time is too much?
As adults, we should not need someone to tell us how much time we should spend online or on our devices. But it is important stay aware of how much time you’re spending online, and the impact this has on both your work life – making sure that your work is not suffering – and your social life – making sure that your relationships with your friends and family are not being impacted. If any of these areas are being affected, then you probably need to cut back on how much time you spend online.
2. What are the effects of too much screen time?
- Eye strain
- Being unable to sleep restfully every night
- Constantly talking about something from your online life, such as a game or website
- Thinking that your online activities and friends are more important than anything else
- Disconnecting from the ‘real world’ and losing touch with your friends and family
- Work suffering, e.g., constantly being late to work, missing deadlines, submitting work with many errors
This does not mean there are no benefits to having screen time. There are websites, games, and apps that can help you meditate, gain literary skills, test your problem-solving skills, and more. However, the key is to find a good balance between your online and offline life and practice good self-control.
3. What can I do to reduce my screen time use?
- Be aware of how much time you spend on your phone: apps like Moment can help you track your online usage – not only might the numbers shock you into cutting down your time online, but the app lets you set daily limits on yourself with notifications if you go over them
- Keep yourself busy with other activities that do not rely on digital devices, such as active sports, playing a musical instrument, or reading a book (but not on your Kindle!)
- Have specific times of day where you, and your family members, put down your devices, such as during meal times or for an hour before you go to sleep