80% of complaints about spam involve online gambling, loans

A woman holding a smartphone with a spam message. PHOTO: ST FILE

The mobile phone beeps and the text message is from somebody offering an unsolicited loan or an invitation to gamble online.

Perhaps, like youth worker Bobby Zhang, 44, you just delete it, dismissing the message as a nuisance.

But the sender may actually be abetting illegal activities, and the sheer number of such messages reaching subscribers has the authorities worried because people may be lured by the promise of low interest rates and quick gains.

From January to September, the public filed 8,800 complaints about unsolicited messages offering loans and online gambling, according to the latest figures from Singapore's privacy watchdog, the Personal Data Protection Commission.

The messages accounted for 80 per cent of all complaints received by the commission, including those related to personal data breaches.

Although this is an 18 per cent drop from the 10,700 complaints filed in the same period last year, the commission and police are urging the public to file a police report when they receive an SMS or call related to loans, financial assistance or online gambling from an unknown source.

They could also call the National Crime Prevention Council's "X Ah Long" hotline on 1800-924-5664 (1800-X-AH-LONG).

The Straits Times understands that many more people could have been bombarded by messages or calls offering loans or online gambling services. However, most did not report the messages to the authorities.

Sales manager Aaron Koh, 40, said he received five unsolicited messages offering loans this year.

"I didn't complain to the authorities as the messages came from an overseas number," he said.

From January to September, the public also filed 2,200 complaints related to personal data breaches and unsolicited calls from private tutors and real estate agents, among others. This is about 20 per cent lower than the 2,700 complaints received in the same period last year.

Under Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act, which went into effect in July 2014, organisations that fail to protect personal data can be fined up to $1 million per breach.

Companies must check against the numbers listed on the Do-Not- Call Registry before sending out marketing messages or making telemarketing calls.

Launched on Jan 2, 2014, the registry now contains more than 920,000 phone numbers of consumers who do not want to receive any marketing offers by phone, SMS or fax.

The commission has taken action against more than 20 organisations and individuals under the Act so far.

The largest fine of $50,000 was levied on karaoke chain K Box for a data breach involving 317,000 customers in 2014.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 80% of complaints about spam involve online gambling, loans. Subscribe