Fake Facebook accounts created in the names of at least 13 PAP MPs

(Clockwise, from top left) MPs Chan Chun Sing, Tin Pei Ling, Cheryl Chan, Desmond Choo, Chia Shi-Lu and Darryl David were among those affected by fake Facebook accounts in the last few days. PHOTOS: ST FILE, THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - At least 13 People's Action Party (PAP) MPs, including Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, have been affected by fake Facebook accounts in the last few days.

Most of the fake accounts - bearing the MPs' names, profile photos and banner covers - popped up between Thursday night and Friday morning (March 17) but were deleted shortly after the MPs were alerted to them by grassroots leaders and residents.

"The PAP has detected a spate of fake media accounts of several of its Members of Parliament. To date, 13 such accounts have been detected and reported, and subsequently deactivated," Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Alex Yam, who is the PAP's executive director, said in a statement on Friday (March 17).

"These fake or spoof accounts start by imitating known public figures and adding friends. They then attempt to phish for information by sending spam messages through FB Messenger and using a simple tactic related to previous 'Facebook Lottery'/'Facebook Reward Bonus' scams. This scam has been around for some time and usually uses known public figures or even random accounts," he added.

Mr Yam, in a separate Facebook post earlier on Friday, said that the PAP's communications team had been made aware of "a spate of spoof social media accounts of various MPs, about two to three daily".

He encouraged users to look out for a blue tick - Facebook's symbol of verification - on MPs' profiles, and alert MPs if they come across suspicious accounts.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling, who was one of those affected, also took the opportunity to educate residents on how to spot fake accounts on Friday morning.

She alerted residents to the absence of a blue tick against the name of the fake account, and said the impersonator had made dubious requests.

"The fake account had also been sending out friend requests to many of my contacts and 'fans' of this page. It also sent out bait messages, in an attempt to get FB users to click on links purporting to give out goodies (phishing)," she wrote in a Facebook post.

A screenshot of the fake account showed that the impersonator had reached out to one of Ms Tin's contacts, saying: "I really appreciate everyone and will continue to serve you in taking this great singapore (sic) to the greatest place we ever desire."

He or she then asked if the contact had ever heard of the "FB reward bonus", and asked if he wanted the link to the claim the reward.

Said the real Ms Tin: "I don't sound like this. This sounds like a phishing message."

Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan also posted on her official Facebook page on Wednesday (March 15), warning of an unknown account that had been sending messages and friend requests to Facebook users on her behalf.

"Please ignore those requests and report the illegitimate account to Facebook as I did not send any from my official account," she wrote.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, who was also among those affected, said the sudden spate of attacks may prompt the MPs to take collective action: "We'll see whether we can work with Facebook to see if the fake accounts are coming from the same IP address, and make a move from there."

The other affected MPs were Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Chee Hong Tat, Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu, Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, Jalan Besar GRC MPs Heng Chee How and Lily Neo, and Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David, Punggol East MP Charles Chong and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Sim Ann.

This is not the first time PAP MPs have had to deal with fake accounts.

Last June (2016), Minister of State Koh Poh Koon warned residents about a fake Twitter account bearing his name tweets and seemingly promoting an online coupon site and an education site.

In 2015, a scammer created a fake Facebook profile of Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, saying that Madam Halimah was in trouble and needed money, and asked friends to transfer money to her.

In 2014, a Facebook account in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari's name was set up to ask for money.

Mr Yam told The Straits Times that his team regularly monitors the social media accounts of branch chairs, and report suspicious accounts as and when they are detected.

But this recent spate, he said, is "a little more concerted as new spoof profiles are set up as old ones are taken down".

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