Undergrad fined for impersonating senior minister of state

Tan Bing Song pretended to be Senior Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon on Twitter in 2016.
Tan Bing Song pretended to be Senior Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon on Twitter in 2016.

A computer security undergraduate impersonated a senior minister of state on Twitter and tried to dupe the public into believing the latter endorsed some educational online courses he was promoting.

Yesterday, Tan Bing Song, a 26-year-old final-year student at the Singapore Institute of Management, was fined $4,000 for pretending to be Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon, in a bid to deceive the public.

In 2013, Tan set up a website, Onzos, to help companies advertise their products, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Janet George.

One such company was online learning platform Udemy.

Tan would sell discount coupons for its educational online courses on Onzos and receive a commission from the company each time someone purchased a coupon through him.

In 2016, Tan noticed that Web traffic to Onzos was low.

Seeking to maintain his income from the commission, he searched the Internet for ways to boost the website's traffic flow.

He found a guide on a monetising forum that suggested using the name and photograph of a prominent person as a marketing ploy to drive more traffic to websites.

Looking for someone to impersonate, Tan did a Google search of doctors and Dr Koh's name appeared in the search results.

Dr Koh is also a colorectal surgeon.

Aware that Dr Koh is a public office holder, Tan created a Twitter account with the username DrKohKoon, and included Dr Koh's full name and photograph.

He linked Onzos to the Twitter account, which was automatically updated with tweets encouraging the public to follow the website so that they would know whenever new Udemy course coupons were uploaded.

Tan's offence came to light when Dr Koh's media administrator, Mr Tee Wee Lee, lodged a police report on June 14, 2016.

Investigations revealed that no one was successfully duped into purchasing the coupons as a result of the impersonation of Dr Koh, said DPP George, who asked for a $5,000 fine.

Tan has since shut down the Twitter account.

In mitigation, Tan's lawyer, Mr Lim Kia Tong, urged the court to send Tan for probation, stressing that he has a track record of good conduct and only wanted to help his family who was facing financial difficulties.

Mr Lim added that Tan has also sent a handwritten note of apology to Dr Koh, who has forgiven him.

For attempting to cheat by impersonation, Tan could have been jailed for 21/2 years, fined or both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'Undergrad fined for impersonating senior minister of state'. Print Edition | Subscribe