Concerning Increase in Youth Crimes
I mentioned in our Budget Debate about the worrying trend we are seeing, where our youths perpetuating crimes is on the increase.
On the scams front, SPF reported that majority of those arrested for e-commerce scams were youths. For first half 2022, almost 60% of arrestees for e-commerce scams were aged below 29.
While Singapore has been steadfast also in its zero-tolerance approach towards drugs, even amid more liberal attitudes towards the use of drugs both internationally and in the region, such as in Thailand, CNB has also highlighted a worrying trend of more youths abusing cannabis.
While the drug situation in Singapore remains largely curbed, CNB reported that cannabis abusers arrested in 2022 climbed 71% to 236. Worryingly, over 60% of arrestees were aged below 30, and some were even as young as 14.
This is complicated by the continued emergence of new psychoactive substances, and a quadrupling of vaping cases from 2020 to 2022. Such illicit habits appeal more to the youth and could be gateways to other forms of harder substance abuse as well as give rise to other social ills and offences. Moreover, accessibility to these harms is easily facilitated in the digital space, where youths can deal anonymously, which could be challenging for our agencies to detect.
What is equally concerning is that in most cases, parents did not seem to be aware of their child’s involvement with such harms. Can MHA explain its plans on how it can deepen engagement with all stakeholders in the ecosystem – parents, schools, youth groups, media platforms, etc. to identify at-risk youths for more timely and effective intervention?
What further measures will MHA take to address this worrying trend of youth perpetrating crimes?
Stepping Up Efforts to Combat Scams
Despite the increased and commendable efforts by MHA and its partners, the scourge of scams remains unabated and continues to evolve. 2022 saw both a record of 34,000 cases and a loss of well over S$660 million. This means that in the past two years, close to over S$1.3 billion has been lost to scams.
A discerning public is our first line of defence. MHA has been strengthening public education efforts, through the ACT Against Scams campaign and by encouraging residents to download the ScamShield app.
The Anti-Scam Command has also done well, partnering local banks to freeze more than 16,700 bank accounts and telcos to terminate more than 6,500 lines, thereby preventing a further loss of about S$146 million in 2022. Noteworthy, is the step up in anti-scam enforcements such as the recent islandwide operation in February where over 500 scammers and money mules were arrested.
Unlike physical crimes, scams are perpetrated by highly organised transnational syndicates and conducted swiftly in the digital space; and experts have also spoken about sophisticated operations that are aided by artificial intelligence.
Combatting scams hence requires a concerted “all-hands-on-deck” response. MHA should build upon its success to further deepen international co-operation with foreign law enforcement agencies, and partnerships with stakeholders like platform providers (eg. Communication and social media firms) as well as e-commerce players in the digital value chain. To be effective, these stakeholders, who themselves benefit and profit from the digital ecosystem, need to do more, and have accountability clearly assigned, to drive more proactive upstream prevention of scams.
This will become important as recent trends show that while the number of scams have increased, the amount lost per transaction is smaller on average. This trend is expected to worsen as frictionless payments increase along with more cross-border linkages, such as link-up of Singapore’s PayNow with Thailand’s PromptPay and, as announced last week, India’s UPI.
We are an international and well-digitalised financial centre. This makes us inevitably prone to cybercrimes. There is a pressing need for us to swiftly and resolutely act against scams to uphold public trust, as the digital world becomes even more complex with greater cybersecurity risks.
Singapore has often been lauded as one of the safest cities in the world, and we should uphold this standing in the digital sphere too.
Watch the speeches here.