Singapore authorities bring to notice a sharp spike in online trading fraud

Some S$7.8 million was lost to unlicensed online trading platforms, with some 142 registered complaints from consumers in 2017 compared to 40 the year before


Singapore’s law enforcement and financial industry regulator have issued an alert about rising fraud incidents involving online trading platforms.

Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), which operates under the Singapore Police Force, and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said 142 reports were filed last year from consumers who lost S$7.8 million (US$5.83 million) trading on unlicensed online sites. In comparison, 40 such reports were recorded in 2016.

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The unregulated trading platforms offered varied products including foreign exchange, commodities, and binary options, they said, noting that these sites typically were mainly based outside Singapore. This made it tougher for affected scam victims to pursue claims against such operators.

Furthermore, investors often would have to transfer funds to overseas bank accounts held under names that were different from those operating the trading platforms. In addition, some would instruct investors to pay for their trades or fund their trading accounts using credit or debit cards, which could potentially lead to unauthorised future transactions made on these same cards.

These scam trading sites were not licensed or regulated under Singapore’s Securities and Futures Act, which outlined rules licensees would have to observe and that were put in place to protect consumer interests, such as disclosure requirements on investment products.

MAS’s assistant managing director for capital markets, Lee Boon Ngiap, said: “There is no regulatory safeguard for investors who choose to transact on unregulated trading platforms…operated by fraudulent unregulated entities whose backgrounds and operations cannot be easily verified.”

He advised consumers to check and verify the site’s credentials before proceeding with the any trade.

CAD’s director David Chew Siong Tai warned consumers against investment opportunities that promised high returns with strong assurances of little or no risks. “These are more than likely be a scam; if it is sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is,” Chew said.


Henry Sapiecha

This scam costing Australians $22m more than the dating scams

Investment scams cost Australians more money than dating scams last year, with losses of more than $60 million, an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report has discovered.

Combined data from the ACCC and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) found investment scams cost Australian consumers $64 million in 2017. The average reported loss was $53,827, with 20 reports of losses of $400,000 or more.


ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said there had been both an increase in the amount of money people were losing to investment scams and an increase in people reporting them.

“Until recently, it’s usually been dating and romance scams that have had the highest losses but they have been overtaken by investment scams in the last year, and people are losing significant amounts of money to them,” she said.

Investment scams offer a range of fake financial opportunities with the promise of quick returns, often using smooth talking, glossy brochures or professional-looking websites to lure victims.

“They’re not particularly new scams,” Ms Rickard said. “However, I think in low inflation times, at low interest rate returns, it makes investments more attractive to people who are concerned about things like their retirement income.”

Dating and relationship scams were still second for sheer cost, with Australians losing just over $42 million to those scams last year, equal with the year before.

Ms Rickard, who is also chair of the Scams Awareness Network, said while the number of reported dating and relationship scams had dropped, the platforms used by scammers have started to change.

“Scams are increasingly being delivered by social media, places like Facebook, so it’s important to be vigilant,” she said.

“Certainly romance scams particularly have shifted to social media – they used to all be once through dating sites.”

Across scams reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, ACORN and other government agencies, Australians lost a whopping $340 million to scams in 2017, the report concluded.

That figure is $40 million more than in 2016, and the first time reported losses have risen above $300 million, the ACCC deputy chair said.

“I think even that over-$340 million figure … significantly understates the extent of losses to scams,” she said.

Older people are more vulnerable to all types of cons, with people aged 55 to 64 losing the most money, followed by those aged over 65.

More women reported falling victim to scams than men, but “men tend to lose more money, and that’s probably because men tend to have more money than women,” Ms Rickard said.

“In terms of the scams where you lose a great deal of money, women are more likely to be the victims of romance scams, men are more likely to be the victims of investment scams.”

From reports to the ACCC alone, men reported losses of $22.8 million to investment scams, while women lost $12.7 million to dating and romance scams.

The most common scams reported to the ACCC and ACORN were false billing scams, identity theft and phishing. The ACCC’s report found the real cost of those types of scams was difficult to quantify as the primary aim of the scammer is to gather information for future use.

“The ACCC received over 55,000 reports of these kinds of scams in 2017 and there is little doubt that many more were encountered but not reported,” the report said.

Ms Rickard said there was also an increase in scams involving cryptocurrencies.

“Whether it’s fake exchanges – so you’re not really investing in the real thing – or people asking to be paid by cryptocurrency, that would be another new trend for this year,” she said.

For people worried about scams, Ms Rickard said the Scamwatch website has much helpful information.

“You really will find all the information about scams that are going around, how to identify them, how to avoid them, and what to do if you’ve been scammed,” she said.

The ACCC also has a hard-copy publication, The Little Black Book of Scams, which Ms Rickard said is especially helpful for older people.

A scammer’s trick which involved posing as an officer from the ATO duped many Australians in late 2017. Would you have been wiser? The author here was almost the victim of an attempted scam as per above only just days ago. May 2018. I gave the caller both barrels through the phone. The recorded mesage was in great English.Calling back the number a male Indian voice responded & said he was with the Australian Tax Office. That 02..number is now silent..


Henry Sapiecha

NZ Man in court over alleged $1.2m scammed from pensioners


A 48-YEAR-OLD Kiwi has been extradited back from New Zealand to face 21 boiler room fraud charges that police claim stripped retirees of their superannuation and others to the tune of $1.2 million.

The man, who is due to appear in Maroochydore Magistrates Court this afternoon, was the alleged ringleader of the Gold Coast-based scam, police claim.

Victims were lured into the scam with cold calls or by visiting websites set up by the group, Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards alleged.

They were drip fed a small amount of cash to get them to pour more in.

He said the “callous” alleged fraudster had blown most of the $1.2 million on a luxury Gold Coast lifestyle and police did not yet have any assets to strip from the man.

“It was to do with safe racing and betting,” Sen Sgt Edwards said.

“Some of the allegations are that some of the complainants received some of the funding back so they appeared they were getting returns however that was just a phoenix set up. Once an investor put money in they would drip feed some of the other investors money to give the false impression they were getting money,” he alleged.

Snr Sgt Edwards alleged one West Australian victim invested $300,000 into the scam while another Sunshine Coast man in his 70s put in more than $70,000.

A second man has been charged on the Gold Coast.


Henry Sapiecha

Losses from reported Australian hacking victims quadrupled in 2016: ACCC


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported a four-fold increase in hacking scams, with AU$2.9 million lost to such activity in 2016, up from AU$700,000 in 2015.

According to Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2016, businesses bore the brunt of these scams, with over half — AU$1.7 million — being attributed to businesses.

“While the digital economy presents many opportunities and efficiencies for businesses, it also presents significant risks,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says in the report’s foreword.

“Scams targeting businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated using modern technology to make fake emails, invoices and websites appear legitimate to even the astute business person.”

While the digital age is hitting businesses in Australia, the report [PDF] highlights that consumers are also being affected by scammers, with digitisation providing the opportunity for scammers to try new tricks.

Online scams — those executed via the internet, email, social networks, and mobile apps — outnumbered phone-based scams in 2016, with an increase of 130 percent over 2015.

Elsewhere in the report, losses to online scams accounted for 58 percent — AU$48.4 million — of total losses, while social media was a particularly busy platform used by scammers to lure victims, netting losses of AU$9.5 million in 2016 compared with AU$3.8 million in 2015.

Of the social media scams, the most prevalent were related to online dating and sextortion, a form of blackmail in which compromising images of the victim are used to extort money.


Investment schemes

Investment schemes involve getting you or your business to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial opportunity.


Common types of investment scams

Investment cold calls

A scammer claiming to be a stock broker or portfolio manager calls you and offers financial or investments advice. They will claim what they are offering is low-risk and will provide you with quick and high returns, or encourage you to invest in overseas companies. The scammer’s offer will sound legitimate and they may have resources to back up their claims.  They will be persistent, and may keep calling you back.

The scammer may claim that they do not need an Australian Financial Services licence, or that that they are approved by a real government regulator or affiliated with a genuine company.

The investments offered in these type of cold calls are usually share, mortgage, or real estate high-return schemes, options trading or foreign currency trading. The scammer is operating from overseas, and will not have an Australian Financial Services licence.

Share promotions and hot tips

The scammer encourages you to buy shares in a company that they predict is about to increase in value. You may be contacted by email or the message will be posted in a forum. The message will seem like an inside tip and stress that you need to act quickly. The scammer is trying to boost the price of stock so they can sell shares they have already bought, and make a huge profit. The share value will then go down dramatically.

If you invest you will be left with large losses or shares that are virtually worthless.

Investment seminars

Investment seminars are promoted by promising motivational speakers, investment experts, or self-made millionaires who will give you expert advice on investing.  They are designed to convince you into following high risk investment strategies such as borrowing large sums of money to buy property, or investments that involve lending money on a no security basis or other risky terms.

Promoters make money by charging you an attendance fee, selling overpriced reports or books, and by selling investments and property without letting you get independent advice. The investments on offer are generally overvalued and you may end up having to pay fees and commissions that the promoters did not tell you about. High pressure sales tactics or false and misleading claims are often used to pressure you into investing, such as guaranteed rent or discounts for buying off the plan.

If you invest there is a high chance you will lose money.

Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about investment seminar scams (link is external).


Superannuation scams offer to give you early access to your super fund, often through a self-managed super fund or for a fee. The offer may come from a financial adviser, or a scammer posing as one.  The scammer may ask you to agree to a story to ensure the early release of your money and then, acting as your financial adviser, they will deceive your superannuation company into paying out your super benefits directly to them.  Once they have your money, the scammer may take large ‘fees’ out of the released fund or leave you with nothing at all.

You cannot legally access the preserved part of your super until you are between 55 and 60, depending what year you were born. There are certain exceptions such as severe financial hardship or compassionate grounds – but anyone who otherwise offers early access to your super is acting illegally.

Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about how super works (link is external).

Warning signs

  • You receive a call, or repeated calls, from someone offering unsolicited advice on investments. They may try to keep you on the phone for a long time, or try and transfer you to a more senior person. You are told that you need to act quickly and invest or you will miss out.
  • You receive an email from a stranger offering advice on the share price of a particular company. It may not be addressed to you personally, and may even give the impression it was sent to you by mistake.
  • An advertisement or seminar makes claims such as ‘risk-free investment’, ‘be a millionaire in three years’, or ‘get-rich quick’.
  • You are invited to attend a free seminar, but there are high fees to attend any further sessions. The scammer, posing as the promoter, may offer you a loan  to cover both the cost of your attendance at the additional seminars and investments.
  • You see an advertisement promising a quick and easy way to ‘unlock’ your superannuation early.

Protect yourself

  • Do not give your details to an unsolicited caller or reply to emails offering financial advice or investment opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
  • Be suspicious of investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk.
  • Check if a financial advisor is registered via the ASIC website. Any business or person that offers or advises you about financial products must be an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence holder.
  • Check ASIC’s list of companies you should not deal with (link is external). If the company that called you is on the list – do not deal with them.
  • Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments and never commit to any investment at a seminar – always get independent legal or financial advice.
  • Do not respond to emails from strangers offering predictions on shares, investment tips, or investment advice.
  • If you feel an offer to buy shares might be legitimate, always check the company’s listing on the stock exchange for its current value and recent shares performance. Some offers to buy your shares may be well below market value.
  • Never commit to any investment at a seminar – always take time to consider the opportunity and seek independent financial advice.
  • If you are under 55, watch out for offers promoting easy access to your preserved superannuation benefits. If you illegally access your super early, you may face penalties under taxation law.


Henry Sapiecha