Reed Smith Client Alerts

Scam cases in Singapore have increased more than fivefold since 2018, outnumbering physical crime cases. The Singapore government has taken further steps to deter scams by passing bills to amend the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act 1992 (CDSA) and Computer Misuse Act 1993 (CMA) on 9 May 2023. Expected to take effect by end 2023, new CDSA and CMA offences target those who give scammers access to their payment accounts (also known as “money mules”) and those who give scammers access to their Singpass accounts (a national digital identity service for Singapore residents). The government also introduced a bill for a new Online Criminal Harms Act (OCHA) on 8 May 2023, which further deters scams and other malicious online activities.

Authors: Bryan Tan Eng Han Goh (Resource Law LLC)

Past issues

Previously, the CDSA and CMA set a higher threshold of actual knowledge for an accused to be prosecuted by the authorities. A CDSA offence was only made out if the accused knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that they were facilitating others to benefit from criminal conduct. Meanwhile, a CMA offence was only made out if the accused knowingly disclosed account credentials for wrongful gain or unlawful purposes, or knew that such disclosure would be likely to cause wrongful loss.

Ignorance was a convenient excuse for the accused, since the authorities had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused knowingly committed the alleged offences. This was one of the reasons why less than 8% of suspected money mules involved in a series of phishing scams targeting a Singapore bank’s customers could be charged in court. The limited prosecution contrasts with the substantial losses of around S$14 million suffered by hundreds of bank customers.

Also, the authorities could only react to the consequences of online criminal activities. For example, if a website gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that it was being used to con people into an investment scam, the authorities could only take action if someone did suffer losses to the scam and reported the website to the authorities. Since it is relatively easy to create and disseminate scam content online, such delays in taking action put more people at risk, which the OCHA amendments seek to overcome.