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'I was confused and didn't know what to do': Damien Teo almost deleted his Instagram account after scammers impersonated him to ask fans for money

'I was confused and didn't know what to do': Damien Teo almost deleted his Instagram account after scammers impersonated him to ask fans for money
PHOTO: NoonTalk Media

When you have a social media presence, you run the risk of identity theft - regardless of whether you're a famous person or a regular Joe.

In fact, some of us may have already experienced stumbling upon another social media account with a username that is almost identical to ours, featuring images swiped from our own profiles.

Short of avoiding social media totally, what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from malevolent individuals who are not who they seem to be?

That is the topic of discussion for the second episode of Das What They Said, featuring host Dasmond Koh. This episode's guest is actor Damien Teo, who dived into his encounters with impersonation accounts, some of which even went as far as to deceive his fans and social circle.

First happened when he was in secondary school



Damien's first experience with digital identity theft was when he was in secondary school. The former child actor recalled an acquaintance approaching him with concern, asking if his parents were okay.

Damien was puzzled as things were fine with his family. His acquaintance then pulled up a chat log, showing messages from an account that was impersonating him.

"I felt a bit scared," Damien confessed. "[I feared] they might say something negative about my parents, badmouth me, or even attempt some kind of deceit involving money. I was really worried."

He quickly told his acquaintance to block and report the account. For good measure, Damien also reported that user from his own social media account.

That was the end of it, or so Damien thought.

Little did he know that it was just the beginning. More and more of such incidents cropped up over the years, with accounts assuming Damien's identity to attack his reputation and even borrow money from others. One of them even contacted his mother.

This prompted Dasmond to ask if there were attempts to scam Damien's fans of money.

"I'm not sure if they were successful, but it reached a point close to that," the 23-year-old replied.

He shared that he was "confused" and "didn't know what to do" when it started happening. He was also worried about how such malicious accounts might harm his fans, so he ended up messaging them directly, telling them to block and report such accounts.

But it proved to be a Sisyphean task for the actor. As soon as he was made aware of an impersonation account and took the necessary steps to report and get it taken down, another one would pop up.

Challenges with reporting such accounts

Instagram has a feature that allows users to report impersonation accounts, but there is a catch. According to Instagram's help centre, they will only respond to reports sent by the person who is being impersonated, or an authorised representative of the person who is being impersonated (e.g. a parent).

If someone you know is being impersonated on Instagram, the guideline is to alert the affected person so that they can file a report personally.

Even after an account is reported for impersonation, it does not necessarily mean that it will be automatically banned or removed from Instagram. And currently, there is nothing stopping the same user from creating more of such accounts.

Citing his experience, Damien cast doubt on the effectiveness of reporting impersonation accounts to platforms.

"It was emotionally challenging, and I considered deleting my Instagram account at one point," he said, admitting that he did not know what else to do.

What to do besides reporting such accounts

Dasmond brought up the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which addresses anti-social behaviours like harassment and stalking. It also encompasses online harms such as cyberbullying, online harassment and doxxing.

Victims have the option to seek POHA court orders against their harassers to cease these actions, which may involve removing harmful online content posted by them.

Damien expressed some hesitation about turning to legal measures, but Dasmond pointed out the gravity of the situation if left unchecked. Impersonation accounts, while seemingly innocuous at first, can lead to serious consequences. These may include scamming those in one's social circle, or tarnishing one's reputation to the extent where their career or business prospects are affected.

He explained: "If such situations are ignored, and people choose to endure them, the efforts of relevant authorities might not have the desired effect."

"Everyone can face such issues, so it is essential to confront them," he urged.

When asked about his ideal resolution for such incidents, Damien said he wishes that there is a way to identify such individuals and let them know that their actions are unacceptable.

Dasmond mused that his ideal resolution would be to identify the perpetrators and bar them from using social media platforms for six months, making it difficult for them to continue creating new impersonation accounts.

"However, they can still [create accounts using] a different email," he conceded, noting that it is a complex problem.

Keeping yourself safe from online harms

Damien agreed with Dasmond about the challenges of dealing with impersonation accounts. His hope is for everyone to watch out for each other on social media platforms, especially when it comes to online harms.

"We should come together to support one another," he said.

Dasmond said he believes that social media can be a positive space if everyone uses it wisely. And if you encounter any online harm, his advice is to lean on your support system and reach out for help - from family, friends, or even organisations and regulations.

"As long as you're willing to take that step, there are plenty of ways and means to seek solutions," he emphasised.

If you, or anyone you know, has been a victim of online harms, including harassment, abusive language, revenge porn, cyberstalking or doxxing, reach out to SHECARES@SCWO for assistance and support.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Ministry of Law.

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