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Recently, OCBC had to deal with many of their customers being targeted by SMS phishing scams. Unfortunately, cases such as these are becoming the norm, rather than an exception.

In response to these scams, OCBC has introduced a rather novel solution. By March 2022, customers will be allowed to activate a ‘kill switch’ that immediately blocks all transactions from their account. No money in, and no money out.

The ‘kill switch’ takes very little effort to activate — calling OCBC’s official contact number or going to an OCBC ATM will allow a victim to activate it with the press of just a few buttons.

It can only be deactivated by OCBC after verifying that all accounts are in order. This includes re-issuing of digital banking access, checking if there are fraudulent transfers, and other security measures.

But could this really be a silver bullet for all the scams that have been happening with increased frequency? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem so.

‘Kill switch’ is not a silver bullet solution

For one thing, victims must still recognise that they have been scammed before they can take action against the scam, including activating the ‘kill switch’.

During this time, funds are still transferred out, meaning that victims still lose money. The solution, therefore, is not perfect.

The time taken for victims to realise that they have been scammed can also be rather significant. The Singapore Police Force’s Anti-Scam Division in Singapore has reported that their officers have had to convince victims that they have been scammed.

If even victims are unaware that they have been scammed, how effective would a ‘kill switch’ really be? Even OCBC themselves recognise this.

A spokesperson for OCBC that Vulcan Post spoke to said that the idea behind the ‘kill switch’ is not to “replace and prevent scams”. It is also meant to be activated in an emergency, and therefore must not be difficult or tedious to activate.

“It’s that in the event that a consumer’s account is compromised and they may have been unfortunately scammed, they can quickly take an action on their account, which they will not have been able to do so quickly before.”

In other words, this move is meant to try and reduce the efficacy of the scam and protect customers’ funds once they realise that they have been scammed. So clearly, the solution is not foolproof. 

But then again, can any solution be foolproof? Furthermore, is it fair for the onus to be on banks to prevent successful scam attacks?

Consumers have a responsibility in bank security too

The banks cannot possibly monitor every single interaction that a customer has to determine if a scam is happening, and security measures are already in place to try and limit the efficacy of scams.

The banks have done their due diligence, and consumers must come to understand that they are the first line of defence against the scammers.

Prevention is better than cure, and banks such as OCBC can do as much as they can to help victims by reducing the amount they lose, but they cannot ultimately be responsible for the victims’ losses.

What matters is for the members of the public to remain vigilant, and understand that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Technological development and tighter security policies can help to some extent, but that is no substitute for caution on the side of consumers. For their part, government agencies and banks have been trying to educate the public on how to spot scams, and reminding people not to share sensitive information and One-Time PINs (OTPs).

spf bank scam
SPF’s advisory on bank impersonation scams / Image Credit: Singapore Police Force

The ultimate battleground between law breakers and law enforcers, however, remains the customers.

When scammers manage to convince customers to share confidential information, and thereby impersonate bank officials or police officers, would it still be fair to hold the banks and police responsible for any losses we may suffer as a result of our negligence and ignorance?

Perhaps it is indeed time for us as consumers to reexamine our role, and better understand what more we can do to protect ourselves from such scams — taking heed of the notices that are placed for us not to provide confidential information such as OTPs to others unless we are absolutely sure of their identity, keeping track of updated rules and regulations for security measures, and keeping abreast with news reports on new scamming modus operandi.

As consumers, we are the first line of defence, and losses are ultimately borne by us if we fail to keep ourselves safe.

The hard truth is scams will keep happening

That is not to say that banks and law enforcement agencies do not have a role to play. They evidently do have an interest in keeping our funds safe and cracking down on such scams. After all, who would trust a bank with their money if the bank in question cannot assure customers of the effectiveness of their security measures?

But banks cannot be the only ones in the equation. Updating security policies, investing in greater technological development for such security, and informing the public through various channels of new scams and other measures, after all, will never replace the vigilance of customers.

Nor will scammers stop trying to con customers. And we, as customers, should be mindful that the banks and law enforcement agencies are on our side, trying to stem the tide of scams coming our way.

The OCBC goodwill payout has perhaps set a dangerous precedent here. There is a real moral hazard that exists if such payouts become expected, and taken for granted.

What happened to the victims was tragic — that much is true –but we cannot, and should not, expect reimbursement every single time that a scam occurs. Some responsibility on our part as consumers should be expected.

Therefore, we should be wary that perhaps, no silver bullet exists. There is only the struggle between our vigilance and our inattentiveness, that no technology, at least at this moment, can replace.

Tech may be the solution to many things, but at the same time, tech is also the problem for many things. Until technology can fully replace our vigilance and attentiveness, we must continue to live with the unfortunate truth that sometimes, we must bite the bullet and accept the reality of our bad luck.

Featured Image Credit: FinTech Futures

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)