SINGAPORE - Tougher laws aimed at clamping down on money mules and those who sell their bank or Singpass accounts were passed on Tuesday.
The amendments in the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Bill and the Computer Misuse Bill make it easier to prosecute those who sell their payment and Singpass accounts.
The move empowers the police to act against money mules, who hand over control of their payment accounts to criminals, or who use their payment accounts to receive or transfer money for criminals.
The changes to the laws introduce the new offences of rash and negligent money laundering, and disclosing or dealing in Singpass credentials for criminal activities.
Rash money laundering is when the money mule knows or has some idea that what he is doing involves a criminal element.
Negligent money laundering is when he did not find such transactions suspicious, even though a reasonable person would have noticed red flags.
Those convicted of rash money laundering can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $250,000. Those convicted of negligent money laundering can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $150,000.
Those convicted of assisting another to retain benefits from criminal conduct can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $50,000.
Money mules can also no longer claim they did not know they were selling their bank or Singpass accounts to scammers.
The new laws make it an offence for anyone to disclose his Singpass credentials while knowing, or suspecting, these will be used to commit an offence.
The user will be presumed to have known, or had reason to know, if he received any gain for doing so. The user may also be liable if he did not find out the identity and physical location of the person he is disclosing the details to.
Those convicted of the offences involving Singpass can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $10,000.
Scam victims in Singapore lost $660.7 million in 2022, up from $632 million in 2021, bringing the total to almost $1.3 billion lost in two years. Globally, $77.2 billion was lost to scams in 2021.
Between 2020 and 2022, more than 19,000 money mules were investigated by the police. But only fewer than 250 were prosecuted due to gaps in the law.
In her opening speech on the Bills on Monday, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said while there were around 120 money mules suspected of helping scammers in the phishing scams targeting OCBC Bank customers from December 2021 to January 2022, only nine could be charged because of limitations in the law.
Several MPs supported the Bills but were concerned about victims being implicated.
Mrs Teo said the intention is not to penalise such persons through the new offences, and that the authorities will consider the numerous factors in each case, and will act judiciously.
She said: “We must be vigilant and take proper care of our payment and Singpass accounts.
“It is not our intention to penalise those who were genuinely tricked into giving up control of their bank accounts or disclosing their Singpass credentials, or those who needed help from their family members or friends, and subsequently had their trust betrayed.”
Mrs Teo added there is a need to educate the public, and the authorities will intensify public education efforts, like highlighting what red flags to be wary of.
She said the Bills are only expected to come into force in about six months, so members of the public will have time to familiarise themselves with them.