Singapore warns of scammers taking advantage of fears

Visitors wear protective face masks at the Marina Bay waterfront in Singapore on January 26, 2020.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

The Singapore government is warning of scams made under the pretext of investigations linked to confirmed cases of coronavirus, as the city-state seeks to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Scammers have reportedly been calling people to ask for financial details under the pretext of “contact tracing” — the process of identifying those with close contact with infected patients. People who have been identified are closely monitored for symptoms and tests for signs of infection.

Singapore has set up teams working to call people and establish if anyone has had prolonged physical contact with coronavirus patients. It is a way of limiting the spread of the infection, which has killed more than 1,000 people in China.

As of Thursday noon, Singapore confirmed 58 known cases of the coronavirus strain, recently named the COVID-19. The Ministry of Health (MOH) said 15 people have so far been discharged.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health said in a Facebook post last week that it would never ask for financial details during the calls.

“MOH is conducting contact tracing to identify individuals who had close contact with the confirmed cases of novel coronavirus. Please note that we do not ask for any financial details during our call to you,” said the health authority.

The city-state’s police force reinforced the message in another Facebook post.

“No government agency will request for personal details or transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines,” said the Singapore Police Force.

At least one bank has warned users of possible scams. United Overseas Bank, one of the major banks in Singapore, sent alerts to its customers that warned: “Beware of scammers pretending to be from the MOH conducting contact tracing. UOB or the government agencies will never ask for your banking details.”

The new strain of coronavirus, which emerged in late December last year, is believed to have originated from the city of Wuhan in central China.

Last Friday, Singapore raised its risk assessment of the outbreak to the second highest level of alert as the number of confirmed cases continued to climb daily.

The Southeast Asian nation — with a population of 5.7 million — has one of the highest numbers of cases outside China.

On Friday, a Singapore official told CNBC the nation must be prepared that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases could climb in the coming weeks.

“I think it’s really too early to talk about a peak. Cases are coming in on a daily basis and you have to have the expectation there are going to be more cases over the next few weeks,” Janil Puthucheary, senior minister of state at Singapore’s Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications and Information.

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