Changi soars online but Facebook has ID crisis

Facebook user Danny Morgan Lin Yu is passionate, greatly values his downtime with friends, loves travelling, lives in Britain, and speaks Italian and English, according to his Facebook page.

He describes his strongest beliefs as "hope, faith and confidence". There is a profile photo that looks professionally shot, and he has been adding more and more friends in recent weeks.

Problem is, "Danny" is not who he claims he is. Whoever he or she may be is impersonating Facebook user Terence Quek, one of the founding members of Project Happy Feet, a non-profit group that provides footwear, schooling and job training for poor children.

The identity thief "cloned" Mr Quek's account, copying over all the publicly available information about him, including his profile picture and photos.

Mr Quek, the chief executive of a consultancy firm, told The Sunday Times a friend first alerted him to the imposter a week ago. Surprised and annoyed, he immediately went to Danny's page and reported it to Facebook.

"This was not the first time it had happened to me," he said.

Under its terms and conditions, the social network does not allow imposter accounts. It asks victims of identity theft to report the account or file a form, should they not have an account.

But things did not go as planned for Mr Quek. The Facebook team which reviewed the complaint told him that the fake profile had not violated community standards, and so it remained.

Even worse, Facebook disabled Mr Quek's account for "pretending to be someone else", he said.

To prove that he was who he said he was, Mr Quek, a Facebook member since 2007, would need to supply the tech giant with a government-issued identification card. Over the next few days, Mr Quek sent in photos of his driver's licence as well as his passport page.

At one point, he even had to take a photo of himself holding up the documentary proof.

Mr Quek, 41, also mobilised his 4,300 Facebook friends to help out and report Danny's mischief. More than 100 responded within the next 24 hours.

He eventually regained control of his account. "It was a frustrating experience," he said. "But crowdsourcing for help from friends worked for me."

While Mr Quek's ordeal passed fairly quickly, there are thousands of others who might not be so lucky and end up having to fight a protracted battle for their identity.

So why do scammers bother to impersonate strangers?

One possible reason is that there's money in it.

Mr Quek's first encounter with an impersonator was in June. A female Facebook user he did not know was fooled and sent money to the person pretending to be him.

He found out only after the woman contacted him to complain. "Unfortunately, there wasn't much I could do for her," Mr Quek said.

Some identity thieves even use the victim's exact name and birthday, in order to appear legitimate.

They might also block or report the victim first, in hopes that Facebook might suspend the genuine account or make it harder for the victim to report them.

From there, the con artists start "work" by seeking out other users.

To be fair, the social media giant is aware of the problem and is actively clamping down on impersonators.

Earlier this year, it announced that it would notify users if new profiles might seem too similar to existing ones. Profiles that have been reported would also be manually reviewed by a team.

But with millions of users joining every month, it is an increasingly challenging task.

Social media users can protect themselves by being circumspect with the information they put out and ensuring their privacy settings are up to date.

The Changi Experience Online

It started off as an innocuous thread on Reddit, but led to a pat on the back for Changi Airport.

Last week, Reddit user jullia321 posted a question asking pilots and flight attendants which airports they loved or hated.

It was probably little surprise that the name of Changi Airport - voted World's Best Airport in a Skytrax survey earlier this year - came up.

"Changi is like a major shopping and entertainment complex that just happens to have an airport attached to it. Amazing place," said one user. "Singapore airport has got to be one of the best in the world. Arcade, movie theatre, gym, best place for long layovers," said another.

One of the top posts in the thread, which garnered close to 3,000 "upvotes", was a list of amenities and services available to travellers at Changi.

The thread was reported by alternative news site, and shared by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Mr Ivan Tan, senior vice-president of corporate communications at Changi Airport Group (CAG), said the team was pleasantly surprised by the attention. Social media is an important part of CAG's communications strategy, he added, as it allows them to monitor what's being said about the airport.

"As an example, through feedback received through various channels, we have introduced charging points for mobile devices."

It has also been busy producing content to serve its followers on its various social media accounts.

It routinely live-streams events which might appeal to its nearly 1.4 million Facebook followers.

The first live video, posted in April, was a war dance by the Fiji Rugby Sevens Team in Terminal 3.

More recently, it also streamed the arrivals of Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling in August and the national Paralympian team last week.

Apart from its Facebook page, the airport has a presence on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.


This article was first published on September 25, 2016.
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