Justice for scam victims: Overcoming complications and limitations in Singapore’s legal system

   2023-02-19 08:02

by Amber, the Petitioner

I am a scam victim, having lost approximately S$1.2 million. I filed a police report in mid-2021, and my case is still pending investigation. Since my life savings were wiped out by the scam, I have been living with anguish and struggling to keep up with my commitments, such as taking care of a dependent family member and keeping my business afloat with restricted cash flow.

In addition, like most victims, trying hard to keep the secret of being scammed from family members and friends to avoid further condemnations.

Often, people who have not gone through the scam experience, are quick to criticise victims’ stupidity, due to their own ignorance or lack of understanding how these elaborate scams operate by syndicates, using customised plots and backed by train psychologists on targeted victims, with the help of technology advancement can even outsmart authorities worldwide, thus adding salt into victims’ wounds.

The delays are believed to be due to complications in assigning liabilities, particularly banks’ resistance to take up responsibility for their lapses in anti-money laundering (AML) measures and customer care protection.

Victims are left hanging out to dry, to die, or to find means to survive with no help extended beside the banks/Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) repeatedly pointing victims to Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (FIDREC) for resolutions.

Most of us would rather wait for the framework’s announcement, as we are not trained and do not have much faith in the FIDREC resolution system, and there are many restrictions, including the ceiling amount to file one’s case, and the police investigation must be completed. Along with other Global Anti-scam Organization (GASO) members/victims, we try to encourage each other to be brave.

The points below are extracted mainly from the article written by Mr Richa Gautam (of the renowned Rajah & Tann law firm) titled “The Victim’s Perspective on Financial Crimes in Singapore.” It accurately reflects exactly how scam victims, like myself, feel and portrays the plights and obstacles we face in getting justice.

Evidentiary Hurdles & Jurisdictional Hurdles

Like all cybercrimes, victims currently face the consequences of the uphill tasks posed by the Evidentiary Hurdles & Jurisdictional Hurdles faced by the SPF and Singapore authorities in the investigations, be it the transfers of the proceeds involved in bank transfers or crypto transfers.

We believe these hurdles can only be overcome through cooperation and determination by worldwide authorities. It has to be campaigned by leading nations such as the US and China in combating human trafficking and money laundering activities simultaneously on a large scale to have effective impacts to nab at the buds.

The arrests of these syndicate chiefs are only possible if nations are willing to share data and stop giving these dubious characters with questionable financial sources the asylums they seek in, usually, the developed countries.

Together with the influence the leading financial power centres can exert politically onto the less developed nations, where these vice rings operate and are based from, such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, etc., we will see the collapse of these vice activities that go on for far too long.

Digitization should lead to a better life for most common people and not to miseries, and definitely not to benefit the lawless people. Governments should send the right message to the world: “Crime does not pay” stands today as for yesterday.

We hope citizens that depend on their leaders and governments for protection and governance will be repaid with their faith restored soon.

Inherent Limitations in the Laws Criminalizing Financial Crime

I would like to urge Singapore’s justice system to consider the frameworks of the United Kingdom and Taiwan/China. In their pursuits to give justice and realistic assistance to scam victims in this era of the prevalence of cybercrimes, they have amended legislation to mete out appropriate jail sentencing but give more weightage to financial resources to victims.

We see two main conduits that facilitate these cyber scams/financial frauds to execute successfully: banks and crypto exchanges that administer bank accounts (or/and crypto accounts) and the mules who open these accounts.

Mules who unintentionally surrender their accounts to be used for these fraudulent activities should not be exempt from responsibility. They should be held accountable by compensating the victims in accordance with the law.

Furthermore, banks and crypto exchanges that provide these accounts should also be made responsible for their complicit roles.

A victim who recently came to our attention via GASO reported doing 6-7 transfers with a total loss of about $380k. The POSB bank never contacted her, despite the transfers being made in quick succession and the amounts being unusually high. There was no cooldown period after adding a new payee, and the victim transferred to only one mule account, an OCBC account, during this period.

This lack of oversight is a serious lapse in anti-money laundering (AML) and customer protection care measures, and a classic example of what many scam victims have experienced.

There is a clear lack of determination and robust AML measures in Singapore’s banking system that allows these financial scams to prevail and penetrate. Without these mule bank accounts, these scams would not be successful.

Taiwan and China prosecute mules through civil lawsuits, acknowledging that scam victims are drained financially and devastated emotionally. They recognize that victims often do not have the resources to undertake any civil suits to seek justice and obtain compensation. Meanwhile, in the UK, banks are required by legislation to compensate victims’ losses for transfers made due to APP scams (Authorized Push Payments).

In conclusion, I advocate for the reform of Singapore’s legislation to shift the focus of financial crime to the victim’s perspective, as suggested by Mr Gautam.

Singapore has the framework for this, but what is needed is the political will to address the issues arising from international financial crime and the practical difficulties victims face in obtaining restitution for their losses. The laws must be amended to come in line with the current thinking, which emphasizes the victim’s perspective and restitution rather than punishment.

Victims of financial crime need a justice system that is fair, practical, and effective in meting out appropriate penalties and providing meaningful restitution.

Original Source