The police are investigating 12 people for their suspected involvement in e-commerce scams and commercial crime-related offences, the authorities said on Sunday (Apr 28).

The seven men and five women, aged between 25 and 55, were identified following an enforcement operation conducted on Apr 24 and Apr 25. The suspects are believed to be involved in 23 cases where victims lost more than S$38,000, the police said.

Five of the suspects are believed to have allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to facilitate scams and are being investigated for the offence of money laundering. One suspect is being investigated for forgery, while another suspect is being investigated for cheating. The five remaining suspects are being investigated for criminal breach of trust or criminal breach of trust as a servant under the Penal Code. The offences carry a punishment of imprisonment which may extend to seven years or 15 years respectively, in addition to a fine.

“To avoid being an accomplice to crimes, members of the public should reject requests by others to use your bank account or mobile lines as you will be held accountable if these accounts are linked to illegal transactions,” the police said.

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There has been a significant rise in e-commerce scams in recent years. This can be attributed to the rise in technological advancements by hackers and scammers as well as the push towards a cashless nation.

As Singapore gets increasingly dependent on cashless transactions, many online shoppers are using digital payment methods instead of the traditional cash transactions. Online transactions are quicker, more efficient, cheaper, time-saving and can be done in the comfort of our homes. Aligned with the concept of Singapore as a smart nation, there has been an explicit push towards more transactions transitioning towards cashless payment methods. However, it seems like the transition might be too hasty and there still exist many security gaps that have not been addressed.

Cashless systems are a haven for scammers as they are essentially a key to many people’s’ life savings. A hacker could potentially drain an account in minutes and route the money in an endless, untraceable loop. Previously, banks were the only ones who protected confidential information and they were the first line of defence against scammers and hackers. However, with the advent of cashless systems, other companies like Carousell or Lazada have access to similar information. Unlike traditional banks, these tech companies might not have security systems on par with the banks. They also lack the incentive to do so, choosing to focus on quick sales and high volume.

Another issue regarding e-commerce scams is the lack of knowledge about protecting oneself online. As digital shops are more focused on the volume of sales, they are not incentivised to educate users on proper protection of their confidential information online. The onus is on users to exercise discretion and to minimise risk as best as possible. However, oftentimes users are misguided by the glitz and glamour of the e-commerce industry and blindsided into providing any information they ask.

To combat this issue, the push for a cashless nation has to slow down to match the pace of digital and cyber security. There has to be managed growth that is moderated by relevant institutions. Growth in an industry without an appropriate safety net could potentially spell disaster for the industry on the whole.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. What other reasons are there for the increase in e-commerce scams?
  2. What is the role of the government in this issue?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘Blindsided’: make (someone) unable to perceive the truth of a situation
  2. ‘Onus’: something that is one’s duty or responsibility

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