Annual Crime Statistics in Singapore published in 2018 reported that online impersonation scams had increased by about 30% since 2017 to 2018. It was reported that the total amount lost in such scams also rose by about 70%, with at least S$43 million lost to online impersonation scams in 2018. Online impersonation takes place in multiple forms such as through internet love scams, email scams, e-commerce and business scams, and are committed for multiple reasons. In light of the prevalence of such scams, the article provides some preventative steps that can be taken to protect you from online impersonation scams, and selected Penal Code provisions relating to impersonation.
Preventative steps to protect you from online impersonation scams
1. Protect Your Information Online
- Use strong passwords and change them regularly.
- Install email protection software.
- If possible, avoid accessing personal data, or bank accounts when connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
- Be aware about phishing.
2. Educate yourself
- Educate yourself on the latest scams designed to lure people into giving away money, personal details, or data. More information can be found at www.scamalert.sg.
- For scam-related advice, there is an anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688.
3. Check Bank Accounts for Activity
- Monitor your bank account statements regularly for unauthorised vendors.
4. Make a report to relevant service providers and banks
- Businesses or persons affected by the scam should call their banks immediately to recall any such funds.
Lodge a police report
If you have been impersonated online and/or someone has impersonated another person in a scam, you should lodge a police report. The police will investigate the situation, and if the perpetrator is found, the perpetrator may be charged with the below mentioned offences in the Penal Code.
Charges under the Penal Code
1. Cheating by Personation
What is “Cheating by Personation”?
Section 416 of the Penal Code defines ‘Cheating by Personation’. It occurs when a person cheats by knowingly substituting one person for another, or by presenting that he or any other person is a person other than he or such other person really is.
The offence is committed whether or not the individual impersonated is a real or an imaginary person, or even deceased.
What is “Cheating”?
Section 415 of the Penal Code defines ‘Cheating’ and states the following: –
- It does not matter whether or not deception was the sole or main inducement;
- The inducement must be fraudulent or dishonest;
- There must be inducement of a person to:
- Deliver any property to another person;
- To consent that a person retains a property; or
- To omit to do what he would not usually do if he was not deceived; and
- The act or omission causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.
Punishment for Cheating by Personation
Section 419 of the Penal Code states the punishment for cheating by personation is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years, or a fine, or both.
2. Impersonating a Public Servant
Section 170 of the Penal Code defines what it is to ‘Personate a Public Servant’: –
- Knowledge that he does not hold any particular office as a public servant;
- Pretence to hold office and assumes character;
- False personation;
- Assumed character; and
- Does or attempts to do any act under the character of such office
Punishment for Personating a Public Servant
Section 170 of the Penal Code states the punishment for personating a public servant is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years, or a fine, or with both.
3. Criminal Defamation
Section 499 of the Penal Code for ‘Criminal Defamation’ states that a person commits criminal defamation when:
- There is an intention to cause harm or there is knowledge of belief that the imputation may cause harm to a reputation to someone; and
- If a person, by words (spoken or read), or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person.
4. Civil Defamation
Civil defamation suits can also be filed if a victim wants to seek compensation. In general, there must be proof that the statement in question is defamatory, the statement must refer to the victim, and the statement has to be published, or communicated to a third party.
If you require criminal legal advice regarding online impersonation, scams, and cheating, contact one of our dedicated Specialist Criminal Lawyers who will be able to give you quality advice and personal attention to your specific legal questions.