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Government SMSes will come from single '' sender ID from July 1 to safeguard against scams

Government SMSes will come from single '' sender ID from July 1 to safeguard against scams
A system is in place to detect scammers who try to spoof the sender ID.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE — From July 1, virtually all SMSes sent by government agencies in Singapore will have a single sender ID, as part of efforts to make it easier for the public to identify authentic government text messages.

Such SMSes will show "" as the sender ID instead of individual government agencies, such as "MOH" for the Ministry of Health or "Iras" for the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Besides the sender ID, every text message will begin with the full name of the agency that sent it and end with a note stating that it is an automated message sent by the Singapore Government, to indicate that recipients should not reply to it.

Over a two-week period beginning on June 18, government agencies will gradually begin to send messages using the sender ID, with all messages displaying the new ID from July 1.

There are exceptions, though: Text messages from the Defence and Home Affairs ministries about national service matters and emergency services will have different sender IDs.

The initiative was developed by Open Government Products (OGP), an independent division of the Government Technology Agency that builds technology for the public good. The effort aims to safeguard people here against government official impersonation scams.

In recent years, several initiatives have been introduced to prevent SMS scams.

In 2022, all banks here removed clickable links in e-mails and SMSes to their retail customers as part of safeguards introduced to combat phishing scams.

And in 2023, the Infocomm Media Development Authority required all organisations that send SMSes with alphanumeric sender IDs to register with the Singapore SMS Sender ID Registry.

According to the authority, more than 4,000 businesses — including financial institutions such as DBS Bank and e-commerce firms such as Lazada — are on the registry as at April 2024.

Those that did not register would see their text messages labelled "likely scam".

The consolidated SMS sender ID is designed to give the public added confidence and peace of mind when it comes to identifying legitimate SMSes from government agencies, said Smart Nation Group deputy secretary Sim Feng-Ji.

The initiative is part of the Government's commitment to stamp out malicious phishing attempts that undermine the public's trust in government communication, he added.

Sim noted that in December 2023 alone, about 120 people here fell prey to government official impersonation scams, losing more than $13 million.

The sender ID currently applies to messages sent via SMS, but not other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

"The Government is exploring ways to enhance assurance on other communication channels such as calls, e-mails, WhatsApp and Telegram," said OGP assistant director for policy Hygin Fernandez.

For now, efforts are focused on ensuring the successful and seamless roll-out of SMSes under the single sender ID, he added.

The Government is working with various parties, including all telecommunication service providers and their sub-brands, as well as SMS aggregators — platforms acting as a link between organisations that send mass text messages and telcos — to secure the sender ID.

Fernandez noted that a multi-tiered system is in place to detect scammers who try to spoof the sender ID. For example, messages from scammers using alternative spellings, such as g0v.5g, will be prevented from reaching the public.

Those outside of the Republic who receive messages from Singapore government agencies may not see as the sender ID, depending on the country they are in.

In January, the police and DBS Bank reported a surge in cases of scammers impersonating banks or their staff to phish victims' banking credentials via SMSes. At least 219 victims lost some $446,000 in the first two weeks of 2024.

In April, Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo said that, following the introduction of the Singapore SMS Sender ID Registry, scammers switched to using local SIM cards to reach prospective victims via scam calls and SMSes. More than 23,000 local mobile lines were involved in scams and other cybercrimes in 2023, she said.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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