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[FEATURED NEWS] Q Team: Fighting Phishing and other Scams

Q Team is helping Home Team fight online scams with technology.

Q-Team(Photo: HTX/Rachel Tan)

With the rise in the number of scams and cybercrime, the risk of losing one’s life savings to a scammer has become a major concern of Singaporeans. The SPF recently warned that scams and cybercrime cases rose from 26,886 to 33,669 between 2021 and 2022.

In 2022, 7,097 phishing scams were reported to the police, with S$16.5 million cheated from the victims. This makes phishing the top scam of concern for the public. What is phishing? Phishing is a scam where the scammer uses a seemingly legitimate interaction to trick the victim into divulging sensitive information such as his credit card details.

One common way scammers do this is by creating scam websites that look identical to legitimate websites. Once a victim is tricked into accessing a scam website, he may divulge his sensitive information to the scammer, for instance, by filling in a payment form that requests his credit card details.

The Home Team has been working hard to protect the public against phishing scams. HTX’s Q Team has built a powerful tool – the Online Cybersquat Hunter (OCH) – which can hunt down scam websites. OCH works by looking for tell-tale characteristics of scam websites using AI, with image and text analytics.

In the following example, scammers created a fake Channel NewsAsia website (See how the address of the scam website looks so similar to the actual Channel NewsAsia address that the average user might get tricked!) This fake website promoted a scam gambling website which requested credit card and personal details from the victims:


(Photo: HTX/Q Team)

Upon detection, this fake website was promptly taken down by law enforcement.

OCH scans up to two million websites each day and flags the most suspicious websites for further review. OCH is also implemented in PhishMonSG, a phishing detection tool HTX jointly developed with GovTech that proactively hunts for malicious sites posing as government agency websites.

To assist with the additional review of the most suspicious websites flagged by OCH, Q Team has developed a tool called the Scam-Site Indicator Digital Assessment (SIDA). SIDA enables officers to automatically check if a suspicious website contains malicious content and utilises a suite of Machine Learning algorithms to predict whether a website is a scam.

However, when law enforcement agencies take down phishing and other scam websites, this is not the end of the story, as the criminal syndicates responsible for these websites may simply resurrect these websites under different web addresses.

As Dr Ng Gee Wah, director of Q Team, points out, hunting for scams is like a cat-and-mouse game. SPF officers are working tirelessly to combat these scammers, and HTX helps with this challenge by developing technology as force multiplier.

In the case of the resurrected scam websites, Q Team has developed a tool called SYNWEB which enables officers to automatically check within a database whether a new website is similar to previously known scam websites.

The software engineer behind OCH, Ms Tan Wei Lin – a first-class Honours graduate from NTU Electrical Engineering who won a public transformation award in 2022 – expressed that she was “glad to be able to play a part in Singapore’s anti-scam efforts. As victims still fall prey to scams, helping agencies to find fake websites becomes meaningful work.”

Apart from phishing scams, Q Team is also building tools to combat other types of scams. One such scam is the Credit-for-Sex scam, in which the scammers use classified advertisements to offer sexual services to their victims.

When contacted by their victims, the scammers request advance payment through AliPay credits or iTunes or Google Play gift cards. After making the advance payments, the victims discover they have been scammed when their promised sexual partners do not show up for their appointments.

To combat this scam, Q Team is developing the Sex Scam Hunter, an automated Machine Learning tool, to help SPF officers search classified advertisements that offer sexual services and identify potential scam listings.

Wei Lin and the Q Team are well aware that the challenge of scams is far from over: “Together with other agencies, we are continuously improving on our technology to fight against scams.”


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