OCBC CEO ON DEALING WITH PHISHING SCAMS - ‘It was like fighting a war'
The Straits Times|January 23, 2022
By Christmas, more than 100 people were working to fight the scams, operating round the clock.
Joyce Lim

In early December, staff at OCBC Bank started getting calls from frantic customers saying they appeared to be victims of a phishing scam.

As employees from Singapore’s second-largest bank worked to get to the bottom of this, more and more cases started popping up.

By Dec 30, nearly 470 customers had lost at least $8.5 million. Some had savings in the six figures wiped out.

“It was like fighting a war,” said OCBC group chief executive Helen Wong of the massive phishing scam that hit the bank.

The war escalated quickly as deposits drained from compromised bank accounts, even as bank staff scrambled to shut down transfers to mule accounts.

“As we blocked the mule accounts, the fraudsters somehow managed to find new mule accounts for the money to be paid into,” said Ms Wong, in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times.

Describing the attacks which took place as “fast and furious” and well-strategised, she said some funds were immediately remitted overseas as the scammers had fraudulently added new payees abroad.

Police investigations are ongoing, and OCBC has said it will pay all victims their losses out of goodwill.

When the first phishing scams surfaced in early December at OCBC, there were only a few cases, but a team in the bank was already investigating this, said Ms Wong on Friday.

On Dec 3, the bank posted a security advisory on its website, warning customers of the phishing attacks. As more phishing websites were detected, the bank’s antifraud team alerted domain providers to take them down.

Further warnings were issued to customers, but the situation worsened in the days leading up to Christmas. The bank knew it had a crisis on its hands.

The fraudsters had picked a clever time to attack, when people were winding down for the Christmas holidays, with some victims travelling overseas and not paying attention to their accounts, said Ms Wong.

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