Victim of a Wire Fraud? Here’s What You Can Do
Have you ever received an automated call claiming to be from the Ministry of Health requesting your personal information, or perhaps a text from a parcel delivery service asking for your credit card details before you can receive your package? These are some common examples of wire fraud.
Wire fraud refers to the use of electronic communication such as telephone calls, text messages, emails, the Internet and even social media to deliberately scam individuals for profit. Victims are usually asked to wire or transfer money to a fraudster’s bank account, following which their financial details and/or money are compromised.
This article will cover:
How Do Wire Transfer Scams Occur?
Here are some of the ways in which wire transfer scams might typically occur:
- Email scams: Email scams can come in many forms. If you are an employee of a company, scammers might impersonate your boss, asking you to make wire transfers pursuant to a fake invoice. You could also be instructed to make transfers to bank accounts controlled by scammers. For example, the scammers might impersonate a supplier of your company, claiming that the payee’s details have changed and requesting for money to be transferred to their account instead. It might be difficult to ascertain the legitimacy of such an email because scammers often use the same business logo, a similar email address, company links, and even messaging format of the other party that you are dealing with. Apart from making fraudulent transfers, you might also be told to click on a malicious link in an email, or provide personal details (such as your bank account details) on a website. Once scammers have this information, they might be able to access your bank account to make fraudulent transactions, causing you to lose money.
- Investment scams: Investment scammers often impersonate actual investment firms and ask you to invest in fraudulent investment products or schemes. Scammers could also pretend to be stockbrokers, banks or finance companies and ask you to share personal details for the purposes of proceeding with an investment. They then ask you to wire money to banks in China and Hong Kong and pay certain fees and taxes before you are allowed to receive returns and profits. A new type of investment scam was reported in April 2022, with scammers claiming to be from the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and offering seemingly profitable investment packages via Telegram. Scammers even used the GIC logo to appear legitimate. The fraudsters then asked for the victims’ personal information and bank account details and instructed them to wire money into the scammers’ own bank accounts.
- Cryptocurrency scams: With the growing popularity of cryptocurrency, it is perhaps no surprise that cryptocurrency scams are becoming increasingly common. Under this type of scam, fraudsters set up fake websites resembling those of legitimate firms and get victims to invest or transfer their cryptocurrencies into their own digital wallets. In June 2022, the police warned the public to be wary of fraudulent online articles claiming that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was endorsing cryptocurrency auto-trading programmes.
- Romance scams: Also known as Internet love scams, these scams usually occur on online dating platforms. Victims are lured by prospective suitors online into transferring money as proof of their love, with the said suitor disappearing the moment the money has been transferred. In other scenarios, romance scammers might claim that they have fallen into hard times and require your help. After gaining your trust, they might then ask you to invest in a certain company or in cryptocurrencies, or even to transfer or receive funds on their behalf using your bank account. It has also been reported that fraudsters would often claim to have attempted to send extravagant gifts to their victims, but these gifts have been detained by the customs authorities in their countries. For the victims to receive the gifts, these scammers would then ask the victims to wire money to third-party bank accounts in order for the gifts to be released.
What Can I Do If I am the Victim of Wire Fraud or a Scam?
If you realise that you have fallen victim to wire fraud, it is important to remember that time is of the essence. It is crucial that you act as quickly as possible to try and trace the funds and take steps to mitigate any further losses.
Here are some steps that you should take as soon as you discover you have been scammed:
- Call your bank immediately to report the fraudulent transaction. The bank can disable your online banking access and deactivate your cards to ensure that the scammers are unable to perform any further unauthorised transactions. In some cases, such as when your funds have been transferred to another local bank account, it may even be possible to recover the funds you have lost, hence saving you time, costs and the stress of pursuing other forms of recovery. However, this cannot be guaranteed. Much depends on how quickly you react upon discovery of fraud, how quickly your funds are transferred to other countries (if applicable), as well as whether your funds can be traced and frozen by the authorities. Banks are also introducing additional safeguards to cushion the impact of scams, including:
- An emergency “kill-switch” for individuals to suspend their accounts quickly if they suspect that their bank accounts have been compromised;
- A default transaction limit for online fund transfers of S$5,000 or lower;
- Rapid account freezing and fund recovery operations for victims;
- Requiring further customer confirmations in order to process substantial changes to customer accounts and high-risk transactions; and
- Strengthening of fraud surveillance systems.
- Collect evidence. It is important to document every transaction and transfer you have made, along with any correspondence (e.g. screenshots of WhatsApp and Telegram messages, emails, Carousell chats, Facebook messages, Instagram DMs) and the scammers’ contact information, if available. Keeping records of such information is vital because they can be used as evidence should you decide to file a police report or initiate civil proceedings against the scammer.
- File a police report. Wire fraud and scams fall under the criminal offence of cheating, and scammers can be charged in court if there is sufficient evidence of the offence having been committed. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has also set up a dedicated Anti-Scam Centre and can assist with freezing bank accounts involved in scam operations and helping victims recover losses. You can also contact the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), which gives scam-related advice. Further, the NCPC offers a preventative service called ScamShield, which can block incoming spam messages and calls on your phone.
In the case of romance scams where you have interacted with the scammer on a dating application or website, you can also lodge a report directly with the service provider. For instance, the popular online dating platform Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) provides users with information on how to report suspicious profiles, which you can read more about here. The CMB team will then review your report and investigate the issue accordingly. Do note, however, that there is no guarantee that they will be able to nab the scammer.
On the other hand, in the case of a cryptocurrency scam, you may not be able to lodge a report directly on the cryptocurrency website itself, as it might be highly likely that the website is also fraudulent or fake. Hence, you may need to make a police report.
Pursuing Legal Remedies to Get Your Money Back
When considering legal remedies to recover your lost funds, it is important to bear in mind that there is no guarantee that you can get your money back. This is especially so if the scammer has left the country or transferred your funds to bank accounts that are based overseas. Hence, it is crucial to be mentally prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to trace and recover your money.
With that said, there are some legal remedies that you may consider:
Filing a civil claim against the fraudster/scammer
You may file a civil claim against the scammer to recover your money if they can be traced and identified. However, if the scammer is based overseas, cannot be traced, or is anonymous and therefore cannot be identified, it may be unlikely that you can bring a successful claim or action against them.
For more information on the civil litigation process in Singapore, do refer to our article which provides a detailed guide on commencing a civil claim.
Pursuing an enforcement order
If the court decides in your favour and orders the fraudster/scammer to compensate you for your losses but they fail to do so, you may pursue an enforcement order under Order 22 of the Rules of Court 2021. This means ensuring that the fraudster complies with the court order and pays you the sum you are owed. You may pursue an enforcement order by filing an application online using the eLitigation system.
However, there are some things to consider before you decide to pursue an enforcement order, such as:
- Whether it is worth the time and effort to pursue the order;
- Whether you are willing to pay the fees required for enforcement; and
- Whether the fraudster has the means to compensate you for your loss.
In making your decision, you might also wish to consult a civil litigation lawyer for further advice on the merits of pursuing an enforcement order.
Obtaining an injunction against the fraudster/scammer
You may also consider obtaining an injunction, which prevents the scammer from getting rid of your funds to avoid compensating you. There are several different types of injunctions, but the one that is most likely to be of relevance if you have been the victim of a scam is a Mareva injunction. This type of injunction freezes the scammer’s assets so that they cannot be intentionally disposed of (e.g., sold off).
When considering whether to commence civil proceedings against a scammer, it might again be helpful to consult a civil litigation lawyer. A lawyer would be able to advise you on the merits of your case and guide you on the best course of action to take.
Discovering that you have fallen prey to wire fraud can be highly stressful and anxiety-inducing. Nevertheless, it is important to remain calm and remember the steps to take if such an unfortunate incident occurs. As soon as you believe that you have been a victim of wire fraud, call your bank immediately to report the fraudulent transaction(s), collect and consolidate all available evidence, and file a police report as soon as possible.
If you are considering taking legal action (beyond filing a police report), it is best to consult a civil litigation lawyer for advice on how best to proceed. A lawyer will review the situation and advise you on whether you should, for instance, initiate civil proceedings against the fraudster.
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