Advancement in technology has resulted in a surge of new criminal activities across the globe. Thanks to the internet, more sophisticated crimes are committed with minimal resources, making the public more vulnerable. In 2019, cybercrimes accounted for 26.8 per cent of Singapore’s total crimes.126 June 2020 Cyber Security Agency of Singapore’s Singapore Cyber Landscape 2019 publication https://www.csa.gov.sg/news/publications/singapore-cyber-landscape-2019

Here is a snapshot of the legislative framework to address some of the new crimes which have surfaced and evolved in recent times:

Doxxing

In the digital age, online vigilantism is at its peak. In Singapore, individuals have been shamed on digital platforms and their details have been published, making them victims of doxxing. Doxxing is a cyberbullying tactic where a victim’s personal information is revealed online without (the victim’s) consent, as a means to harass, threaten or facilitate violence against the victim.

As of 1 January 2020, individuals and corporations that are guilty of doxxing may be punished under the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”) in the following situations2Strictly speaking, only individuals can be victims of doxxing. However, in case an entity faces doxxing, it can apply for stop publication or correction orders under POHA.:

  1. Where identifying information3POHA defines identifying information as any information that identifies or has the potential to identify an individual, including but not limited to:
    (a) name, residential address, email address, telephone number, date of birth, national registration identity card number, passport number, signature (whether handwritten or electronic) or password;
    (b) any photograph or video recording of the individual;
    (c) any information about the individual’s family, employment or education;
    of a specific victim (or anyone else related to the victim) is published with the intent to cause harassment or distress to the specifically targeted victim.4Section 3 of POHA.

    Penalty — fine of SGD 5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.5Section 3 (2) of POHA.

  2. Where personal information of the victim (or anyone else related to the victim) is published intentionally or with the knowledge or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to:6Section 5 (a) and 5 (1A) of POHA.
    1. cause the victim to believe unlawful violence would be used against him or any other person; or
    2. facilitate the use of violence against the victim or any other person.

    Penalty— SGD 5,000 and/or prison sentence of up to 12 months.7Section 5 (2) of POHA.

As a victim of doxxing, you may apply for a Protection Order (“PO”)8Section 12 of POHA. to prohibit the offender from engaging in further harassment and to restrain others from disclosing your personal information.

Cyberstalking

The repeated use of electronic communications including threatening emails or photographs to harass or frighten someone amounts to unlawful stalking and is punishable under POHA.9Section 7 of POHA.

Penalty — fine of up to SGD 5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 12 months. You can also apply for a PO to prevent further stalking.

Cyber extortion

Cyber extortion happens when a hacker gains access to personal data, computer systems, or other sensitive information of the victim, and demands money in exchange for restoring access to the data. Cyber extortion can be committed through a ransomware attack, where the victim activates the ransomware by clicking on a corrupted file that shows up as a link in an email or appears as a pop-up ad. It can also be done through emails where victims are threatened that their personal information will be made public unless they pay a ransom. In the first half of 2020, cyber extortion cases increased by 300% as compared to the same period in 2019.1026 August 2020 Singapore Police Force’s Mid-Year Crime Statistics for January to Jun 2020 https://www.police.gov.sg/media-room/statistics.

Cyber extortion cases are punishable under various provisions of the Computer Misuse Act (“CMA”) whilst extortion is also an offence under the Penal Code.

Penalty — punishable with a prison sentence of 2 to 5 years with caning.11Section 383 of Penal Code.

Other types of cybercrimes include:

  1. Malware attacks – where a computer system is deliberately infected with a virus or a malware;
  2. Cyber espionage – gaining unauthorized access to government data;
  3. Distributed DoS attack – spamming a system or a network to bring it down; and
  4. Data breaches – attacking databases to steal large amounts of private and personal information.

Spreading ‘Fake’ News

Is spreading fake news a crime? In recent years, there have been growing concerns over the scourge of fake news and misinformation, communicated particularly through various online and social media platforms. Thus, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (the “POFMA”) was passed in Parliament on 8 May 2019 to prevent the electronic communication of falsehoods as well as to safeguard against the use of online platforms for the communication of such falsehoods.

The POFMA criminalizes:

  1. communicating a false statement of fact, within or outside Singapore, when you know or have reason to believe that the statement is false,12Section 7 of POFMA. and such communication affects the public interest;13This includes:
    (a) Threatening the security of the country, public health, public finances, public safety, friendly relations with other countries;
    (b) affecting the outcome of an election for the office of President, or Members of Parliament; or
    (c) inciting feelings of enmity or ill-will among people; or
    (d) affecting the public confidence in the government.

    Penalty — prison sentence up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to SGD 100,000.14Section 7 (2) of POFMA.

  2. making or altering a computer program to spread false information;15Section 8 of POFMA.

    Penalty — prison sentence up to 3 years and/or a fine of up to SGD 30,000.

  3. soliciting or receiving any benefit for a service when you know that such a service will be used for spreading false information.16Section 9 of POFMA.

    Penalty — prison sentence up to 3 years and/or a fine of up to SGD 30,000.17Section 9 (2) of POFMA.

Additionally, the relevant minister may issue a Correction Direction or a Stop Communication Direction (the “Direction”) to expediently prevent the further spread of fake news, if he is of the opinion that this would be in the public interest.18Sections 11 and 12 of POFMA. Whilst such a Direction is not intended to restrict opinions, the initial determination of whether a subject statement is an ‘opinion’ or a ‘false statement of fact’ is left to the relevant minister’s discretion. However, where an individual disagrees with the Direction, he may apply to the relevant minister to vary or cancel the said Direction.19Section 19 of POFMA. Should this application be rejected, POFMA provides for a right of appeal to the High Court.20Section 17 of POFMA. As such, the Courts will have the final say on whether a false statement of fact has been made.21Singapore Democratic Party v Attorney-General [2020] SGHC 25.

Online scams

The pandemic has turned out to be profitable for fraudsters. Police officials note that the total amount of money which customers have been cheated of through various online scams stands at SGD 82 million in the first half of 2020, whereas it was SGD 41.6 million during the same period last year.2226 August 2020 Singapore Police Force’s Mid-Year Crime Statistics for January to Jun 2020 https://www.police.gov.sg/media-room/statistics.

Let us look at some of the popular online scams in 2020:

E-commerce scams: A popular E-commerce scam that many have encountered would be ordering items online which are never delivered. Since the beginning of 2020, there have been a number of e-commerce scams related to COVID-19 products such as face masks, hand sanitizers, and thermometers. Between January 2020 and June 2020, e-commerce scams increased by 73.8 per cent (from 1,202 reported cases between January 2019 to June 2019 to 2,089 during the same period this year).23 ibid.

Social media impersonation scams: This happens when a scammer uses a social media account to impersonate the victim’s friend or follower on a social media platform such as Facebook or Instagram. They would then ask the victim for his/her personal details such as his/her mobile number, internet banking account details, and OTP on the pretext of helping him/her to sign up for fake contests or promotions on popular online shopping sites. With the personal details, the scammer then conducts unauthorised fraudulent transactions from the victim’s bank accounts and mobile wallets. During the 1st half of 2020, social media impersonation scams jumped more than fourteen times to 1,175 from 83 in the same period in 2019.24ibid.

Loan scams: A victim may be contacted by scammers who pose as authorized personnel of licensed moneylenders or banks such as DBS, UOB, CIMB, and OCBC. The victim may be contacted through SMS, phone calls, WhatsApp, or even emails and offered loans at attractive interest rates. The scammers instruct the victim to transfer an amount of money as collateral for the loan. Once the money goes through, the loan amount is not disbursed and the scammer becomes untraceable. Cases of loan scams have increased by 56 per cent this year.25ibid.

Phishing: The hacker reaches the target through WhatsApp and Viber by pretending to be bank officials. They obtain the victim’s internet banking details such as account usernames, Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) or OTPs to transfer money from the victim’s account. Cases have increased more than 10 times this year. The number of cases involving banking-related phishing scams went up more than twenty-fold to 898 cases in the 1st half of 2002 as compared to 34 in the same period in 2019.26ibid.

Internet love scams: Scammers befriend victims online and pretend to engage in romantic relationships with them with the objective of “borrowing” money from the victim. Once the money is transferred, the scammer becomes uncontactable. There has been an increase of more than 1.5 times of internet love related scams in the 1st half of 2020 as compared to the same period 2019.27ibid.

Commission of such scams amounts to cheating. Any form of cheating is an offence under various sections of the Penal Code, and the penalties include:

  • Penalty for cheating — fine and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years.28Section 415 and 417 of Penal Code.
  • Penalty for aggravated cheating — fine and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years.29Section 420 of Penal Code.
  • Penalty for cheating by personation — fine, and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.30Section 416 and 419 of Penal Code.
  • Penalty for illegally obtaining personal information — fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years.31Section 416A of Penal Code.

Footnotes

1 26 June 2020 Cyber Security Agency of Singapore’s Singapore Cyber Landscape 2019 publication https://www.csa.gov.sg/news/publications/singapore-cyber-landscape-2019
2 Strictly speaking, only individuals can be victims of doxxing. However, in case an entity faces doxxing, it can apply for stop publication or correction orders under POHA.
3 POHA defines identifying information as any information that identifies or has the potential to identify an individual, including but not limited to:
(a) name, residential address, email address, telephone number, date of birth, national registration identity card number, passport number, signature (whether handwritten or electronic) or password;
(b) any photograph or video recording of the individual;
(c) any information about the individual’s family, employment or education;
4 Section 3 of POHA.
5 Section 3 (2) of POHA.
6 Section 5 (a) and 5 (1A) of POHA.
7 Section 5 (2) of POHA.
8 Section 12 of POHA.
9 Section 7 of POHA.
10 26 August 2020 Singapore Police Force’s Mid-Year Crime Statistics for January to Jun 2020 https://www.police.gov.sg/media-room/statistics.
11 Section 383 of Penal Code.
12 Section 7 of POFMA.
13 This includes:
(a) Threatening the security of the country, public health, public finances, public safety, friendly relations with other countries;
(b) affecting the outcome of an election for the office of President, or Members of Parliament; or
(c) inciting feelings of enmity or ill-will among people; or
(d) affecting the public confidence in the government.
14 Section 7 (2) of POFMA.
15 Section 8 of POFMA.
16 Section 9 of POFMA.
17 Section 9 (2) of POFMA.
18 Sections 11 and 12 of POFMA.
19 Section 19 of POFMA.
20 Section 17 of POFMA.
21 Singapore Democratic Party v Attorney-General [2020] SGHC 25.
22 26 August 2020 Singapore Police Force’s Mid-Year Crime Statistics for January to Jun 2020 https://www.police.gov.sg/media-room/statistics.
23 ibid.
24 ibid.
25 ibid.
26 ibid.
27 ibid.
28 Section 415 and 417 of Penal Code.
29 Section 420 of Penal Code.
30 Section 416 and 419 of Penal Code.
31 Section 416A of Penal Code.