SINGAPORE - Offers to sell forged Singapore passports and identity cards have popped up on instant messaging application Telegram.
Anonymous administrators of one Telegram chat group, for example, have been sending out messages touting such services since at least Feb 24 and remain active as of last Friday (March 18).
Posing as an interested buyer, The Straits Times found that the forged NRICs were being sold for $200 to $450.
Although the seller declined to provide a sample, he claimed that the cost difference came down to whether the card was "registered", meaning that the personal particulars could be found in national records.
In response to ST queries, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said it is aware of Telegram groups advertising the sale of fake identity documents.
"We are monitoring these platforms and will follow up on all leads. ICA will also take strong enforcement actions against offenders," it added.
NRICs can be used to open a bank account, take a loan and register for mobile lines, making these identification documents a draw for people looking to evade the notice of the authorities.
The Singapore passport allows a holder to travel without a prior visa to 192 destinations. According to the latest update of a worldwide index compiled by global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley and Partners, Singapore and Japan have the most powerful passports in the world in 2022.
The ICA, when asked if its systems could be compromised by criminals, said it is committed to its mission to administer immigration and registration services.
"This includes ensuring that our operational systems and processes are robust and secure, and putting in place multiple layers of checks and balances to guard against criminal and cyber-security threats."
While NRIC forgery is not unheard of, Mr Bryan Tan, a partner from law firm Reed Smith who specialises in technology law, said it is unlikely to involve the Government's systems.
Instead, criminal lawyer Cory Wong of Invictus Law Corporation said the forgers may use card printing machines, creating a fake NRIC using someone else's personal details but with the photo of the buyer instead.
There is also the risk that by providing personal data, such as their full names and NRIC numbers to secure a fake identification document, buyers could be falling for a phishing scam, experts said.
Mr Tan said: "Criminals are very imaginative... these are people hawking fake NRICs (on Telegram groups) and you want to give them your NRIC (number)?"
Mr Wong added that those who obtain personal data of others can sell them on the Dark Web for potentially thousands of dollars.
Associate Professor Edson C. Tandoc Jr from Nanyang Technological University’s Centre for Information Integrity and the Internet noted that one must always be careful when sending personal information to other people through Telegram.
"When we don't have a way to verify their real identities or contact them outside the platform, we should be very careful, because if things go wrong, who would be accountable?" he said.
Forging a NRIC is also not as easy as sellers claim because it has safety features that are difficult to duplicate.
For example, the words "Republic of Singapore" printed on NRICs issued on or after May 2, 2013, exhibit a shift in colour when viewed from different angles.
Under the National Registration Act, those found guilty of possessing forged identity cards can be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to 10 years, or both.
Those convicted of forgery can be jailed up to four years or fined, or both.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.