Fake ST, Zaobao and CNA news sites that promote gambling detected and blocked

A fake Lianhe Zaobao website used to promote fake gambling sites. PHOTO: HOME TEAM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

SINGAPORE – Bearing the logos of different news organisations, the websites appeared almost identical to the real ones, with the exact same layouts.

But a key difference is that they claimed Singaporeans could win thousands of dollars overnight by placing bets on “trusted” gambling sites.

An unsuspecting reader might have been misled into believing that The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao and CNA were promoting online gambling in their articles.

Only closer scrutiny would reveal clues that the sites were fake – for one thing, the domains read zaobao-now.com or channelasianews.com

The sites, which have since been blocked, also contained links leading to fake gambling sites believed to be used to scam victims into revealing their bank account and personal details.

The phishing sites were identified in early 2022 during a trial of the Online Cybersquat Hunter (OCH) created by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX).

The tool uses artificial intelligence with image and text analytics to scan two million sites daily, picking up fake ones and taking them down.

It was developed and first deployed in late 2020, and was initially built to scan for sites that mimicked those of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and its affiliated organisations.

But the tool has since been extended to other government organisations to assist them in fighting scams.

During a trial to test if it could pick up fake news websites in 2022, the OCH flagged more than 10 sites believed to have been set up by scammers.

Attempts to access the sites now are met with a warning from the police that they are suspected scam websites.

Scams are a key concern, with over 31,000 cases reported in 2022 and at least $660.7 million lost.

Of these, phishing scams were the most prevalent, with more than 7,000 cases reported.

A fake CNA website that has been blocked by the authorities for being used in scams. PHOTO: HOME TEAM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

The Q Team at HTX, which developed the OCH, has also been developing other scam-fighting tools for the authorities to use.

The Scam-Site Indicator Digital Assessment assists officers in reviewing the suspicious websites originally flagged by the OCH.

It uses machine learning algorithms to automatically predict whether a website is indeed a scam, saving officers from having to manually review each one.

Another tool, called Synweb, deals with the issue of resurrected scam sites that come back with different domain names and URLs after initially being taken down.

It does this by automatically checking sites against a database of previously known scam sites, so that such resurrected scam sites can be identified quicker.

The Q Team, which is a specialised team at HTX that creates quick prototype solutions for unconventional problems, is also exploring tools to tackle other specific types of scams – such as credit-for-sex scams, which accounted for 626 cases and $2.1 million lost in 2022.

A fake website mimicking The Straits Times. PHOTO: HOME TEAM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

During the debate on MHA’s budget last Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said the police have been able to identify and block about 20,000 scam websites with the help of analytic tools.

Ms Tan Wei Lin, a Q Team engineer, said the various organisations now using HTX’s tools have given good feedback.

“Scammers always find new ways to evade checks, and we need to be on our toes to be ahead of them,” she said.

A notice from the police when attempting to access the blocked scam sites. PHOTO: HOME TEAM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

“We have received good feedback from our users and will work on addressing the magnitude and new variations of scams.”

Q Team director Ng Gee Wah said that even with the tools, people need to play an active role in fighting scams.

“Scam tactics are ever evolving – we often see fake websites posing as official websites that may deceive victims into divulging sensitive personal information,” he said.

“Even as HTX continuously improves our technology to fight against scams, it remains as a first layer of defence. We would like to remind the public to be vigilant to protect themselves and others against scams.”

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