Can we still be kind amid scams and fake news?
Scams are becoming more prevalent and deceptive. Channel News Asia (CNA) reported that crime went up seven per cent in first half of 2019, mainly due to a rise in scam cases. E-commerce, loan, credit-for-sex, and Internet love scams collectively make up 80 per cent of the top 10 scam types. 1 The total number of reported cases for these four types of scams increased by more than 1000, almost 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.
In particular, scammers have been using digital platforms such as Facebook, Carousell, and Lazada to extend their reach.
Last November, a bogus report masquerading as one by The Straits Times, falsely quoted Temasek Holdings chief executive officer (CEO) Ms Ho Ching urging Singaporeans “to jump on (an) amazing opportunity before the big banks shut it down for good", referring to an investment scheme that claimed to make “hundreds of people in Singapore very rich”. 2
Such fake articles promoted by fake ads on Facebook have been circulating for months.
Why do people fall prey to such scams?
There is often an assumption that the victims are elderly, less educated, or socially isolated, and thus more vulnerable to being conned.
But there is no proof to this assumption. No one is immune to fraud. Sometimes, people simply fall for scams due to the psychological techniques used by scammers.
Scams don’t prey on people; they prey on people’s emotions. Often, the offer guarantees that you will win money or get rich quick. This appeal to greed overrides natural caution.
Fear is another tactic. Last September, a 21-year-old Chinese national was accused by a “police officer” of being involved in a money laundering scheme. Desperate to clear her name, she did what she was told and transferred a total of S$500,000 to the scammers.
Riding on the authority of government entities such as the police, or in Ms Ho Ching’s case, the credibility of personalities in Singapore, these scams fool the public into putting money into bogus schemes.
But in my opinion, the worst scammers prey on the kindness of people.
There has been a wave of fake online fundraising campaigns on Facebook. The pattern is familiar: scammers post emotive stories, usually about terminally ill children who need money for immediate medical treatment.
Many are taken in by the plight of the children and donate. Unfortunately, failing to verify the truth, which leaves them transferring money to scammers instead.
So here is our challenge. Can we still be kind despite this danger of being cheated?
Yes, we can and we should. There are real people in real circumstances who need our help. Many families in Singapore continue to struggle in one- and two-room rental flats, and rely on food donation programmes for meals.
Scams have always existed. The Internet have made them more pervasive. But the Internet can be used for good, too.
After The Pride shared the story of 5-year-old boy Haiqel born in jail and has never celebrated his birthday, there was overwhelming support for Haiqel’s aunt and guardian, Ms Suhaini Md Ali, and Ms Janice Yap, a single mother who sponsored a fifth birthday celebration for him.
A flurry of messages showing support and showering praises on both Ms Suhaini and Ms Yap were left in the Facebook comments section. Some even offered to buy groceries for Ms Suhaini’s family and toys for Haiqel.
In another story, local volunteer group It’s Raining Raincoats raised S$158,000 in public donations for the family of foreign worker, Mr Velmurugan Muthian, who was killed in a crane collapse in November.
Social media can exacerbate fake news and scams, but it can also bring awareness and help—in cash or kind—much closer and faster to those in need.
We need to be careful in differentiating scammers from genuine people and charitable organisations.
Charity organisations usually do not resort to strong emotive appeals, because it is more important for them to build trusting relationships with donors.
Most are also required to report how they spend the money they receive as a measure of accountability.
To ensure that your money goes where it is intended, donate to a known foundation unless you are sure the individual or group is trustworthy.
If you are able, volunteering your time to a cause can be a meaningful experience to help others in need.
How about participating in your organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes? You can even take the initiative to organise a volunteer event as part of team-bonding.
A study on employees who actively participate in CSR initiatives found that helping others sparked a sense of compassion and generosity in the volunteers themselves. As a result, participants experienced a progressive change within themselves that evoked a feeling of fulfilment, and ultimately joy. 3
The Internet has increased our ability to show kindness to others. We should not let the acts of a few black sheep prevent us from doing good.
1 30 August 2019, CNA, Crime up 7% in first half of 2019, mainly due to rise in scam cases: Police. Accessed via https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/crime-up-first-half-of-2019-rise-in-scam-cases-11856622
2 Clement Y, The Straits Times, Ho Ching warns against scam ads that 'make up fake breathtaking quotes from me'. Accessed via https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/fat-frogs-jumping-in-the-streets-ho-ching-warns-of-fake-reports-using-her-name-to-trick
3 April 2018, The experiences of employees participating in organisational corporate social responsibility initiatives, Research Gate. Accessed via https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324544995_The_experiences_of_employees_participating_in_organisational_corporate_social_responsibility_initiatives
Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.
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