Parliament: New measure to shield consumers from spoof calls from overseas

The measure is in addition to rules requiring local telcos Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG Telecom to block commonly-spoofed numbers, such as 999 and 995. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - All overseas calls will come with the "+" prefix by April 15 this year to help the more than nine million mobile phone users here better identify possible scams.

Announced by Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary on Tuesday (March 3), it is one of several measures the Government will roll out to protect citizens and their personal data, as more are expected to go online.

"Scammers based overseas sometimes spoof calls to look like local calling numbers to target our citizens, such as by spoofing numbers that start with '65'," said Dr Janil during the debate on his ministry's budget.

With the "+" prefix, it is hoped that consumers can better identify international spoof calls.

For instance, +6955 0221 or +4241 2345 are likely to be spoofed calls. Consumers are advised to be vigilant and not to share confidential data over the phone if they are not expecting overseas calls.

The measure is in addition to rules requiring local telcos Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG Telecom to block commonly-spoofed numbers, such as 999 and 995.

"The Government will continue to develop additional measures to combat scams so that our citizens can be better protected," said Dr Janil.

According to police statistics, China-official impersonation scams are one of the top 10 scam types here, alongside e-commerce, loan and credit-for-sex related scams.

The number of China-official impersonation scams - in which scammers trick victims to transfer money to their accounts or give out banking details - rose by 50 per cent yearly to 455 last year, with losses amounting to $21 million.

Domestic calls, including those from local authorities and legitimate organisations like banks, will not have the "+" prefix to help consumers better differentiate the calls.

The limitations of this measure is it cannot be imposed on WhatsApp and Viber calls. But official calls also do not typically come via these platforms.

To better protect personal data from being wrongfully collected and misused, the Government will make changes to the Personal Data Protection Act later this year, said Dr Janil in response to Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

One major update will require organisations to notify affected individuals and the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) of significant data breaches.

This move aim is to strengthen organisations' accountability, as Singapore promotes data-driven innovation.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) and Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked about measures to guard against the misuse of facial recognition technology to secure entry into buildings and for attendance-taking, given its popularity.

Responding, Dr Janil said the PDPC and the Government Data Office, which oversees data management practices across the public sector, will publish guides on the responsible use of biometric technology later this year.

"The guides will include best practices and policies on the end-to-end management of data collected via such technology," he said.

Additionally, data protection rules governing the country's public sector will be harmonised with those for the private sector later this year, in the first major revision to address longstanding criticisms that private companies are subject to stricter measures.

Specifically, the public sector's internal data protection rules, known as Instruction Manual 8, will be updated to make data protection measures clearer and plug gaps.

For instance, all public-sector agencies will be required to decide within 72 hours whether or not to notify affected parties about a data breach, a requirement not spelt out at present.

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