Over 800 unknowing individuals have fallen prey to online scams on local e-commerce site Carousell.
They form the majority of reported police cases involving online fraud in Singapore from January to June 2017.
In the first half of the year alone, there were 900 cases of fraud; these scams caused victims a total of $691,700 in losses. Though significant, this number is a drop from the first half of the previous year, which saw 1,006 cases involving $881,400 in monetary damage.
Most of these scams followed a general storyline, where said victims made payments in advance for purchases that never arrived.
In a statement to the Straits Times, a Carousell spokesperson said that the rate of online scams is “less than 0.1 per cent of more than 20 million successful transactions” on the site since 2012.
However, the local e-commerce giant added they are aware of the impact online scams have on their customers and will improve their “detection tools and teams”.
Besides existing features “such as user feedback [and] user verification”, Carousell also invests in artificial intelligence that heightens its system’s ability to detect fraud.
According to the spokesperson, users have to be aware of the risks involved when shopping online. They can also visit Carousell’s portal for regularly shared safety tips that help users practise due diligence when arranging a deal.
Online shopping tips
So, what can one do to protect themselves from online fraud?
Practising a little caveat emptor (Latin for ‘let the buyer beware’) never hurts, and the most fundamental thing one can do is to check the authenticity of a platform.
An example of this is to simply look at the url for verification; a website is considered safe when there is a padlock symbol in the address bar (or anywhere else in the browser window) and when a web address starts with ‘https’ – the ‘s’ stands for secure.
Second, always check the reviews of a seller. However, reviews can be manufactured by the perpetrator themselves, so do look out for similarly worded statements and phrases on multiple reviews.
Third, if possible, meet the seller in person and make payment only after you have examined the goods. On this vein, it would be ideal to meet the seller in a crowded and convenient place such as a shopping centre or a train or bus station.
Love is in the air?
While online shopping scams account for a large number of victims and monetary losses, it is no match for a derivative of the oldest profession in the world – ‘love scams’.
While the number of victims are lesser than that of online scams (349 reported cases from Jan to Jun 2017), ‘love scam’ losses reached a monumental $22.1 million, more than double of the losses observed in the same period last year.
According to Scamalert, these cases usually start with the victim being befriended by an attractive person online. Said eye candy will proceed to paint a Star Awards worthy sob story of hardships and troubled times.
They will also send words of adoration in the direction of the victim. Once the victim is hooked, besotted and in cupid’s la la land, the perpetrator will demand for some money as proof of love.
And once the money has been sent over, the scammer will pull a disappearing act so profound, Houdini would weep in shame.
Case in point, a Singaporean woman travelled to Malaysia ten times in four months to save her “close friend” from being deported by the authorities for money laundering.
She reportedly spent around $1.1 million on ‘certificates’ issued by, she thought, the United Nations to prove the innocence of her friend, 52-year-old Canadian businessman ‘Lee’.
Needless to say, ‘Lee’, his story of woeful indignation, and the online banking site he referred said lady to were all parts of an elaborate scheme.
In Singapore, any offence tantamount to that of money laundering carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $500,000.