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With so much information flooding our feeds, it's vital to identify fake news and avoid hoaxes. Lau Joon-Nie shares her tips.

 

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Fake news

Fake news is any information that is deliberately or accidentally false, often published with the intention of misleading the public, damaging an entity, or gaining financially.

1. What are examples of fake news?

  • Satire, funny stories based off some truth, that are then spread as the truth
  • News alleging negative things about someone’s character
  • Advertisements trying to gain profit by lying about their costs

2. Why is it dangerous to spread fake news?

  • Public panic may be caused
  • Resources are wasted as the authorities check the validity of claims
  • Reputations are hurt when false allegations are made

3. How can I spot fake news?

  • Check the source: try find your news from credible sources that have a good reputation, not just through your friends or social media
  • Look at the About Us or Contact Us pages: fake websites often don’t have these pages, or have very little helpful information on them
  • Confirm with other reliable sources: check other news sites to see if the same story is running on multiple credible sources
  • Go to the experts: websites such as Snopes and FactCheck have teams who verify whether popular news stories are true or fake, and locally, we have Factually and AskST to check the truth of Singapore-based information

4. I have gotten fake news. What can I do?

  • Do not share or forward it
  • Where possible, inform the source in case it was an accident, e.g., tell the friend who sent it to you or send a message to the website that posted the story

 

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Online scams

There are many types of scams that have grown in popularity online, and it is important to know them to keep you and your family safe online.

1. Fake receipt scams

This scam involves receiving a receipt for a good or service that you haven’t asked for. It could either be a printed invoice sent to your home, or an email that looks like it came from a real business. For example, an email claiming that you made a Netflix subscription using your Apple account. When you click the link to verify it, you enter your Apple account details into a fake site, at which point they have access to your account.

How can I spot a fake receipt scam?

  • Be careful of receipts: Always confirm that the goods or services have been requested and received before paying
  • Check the details: check the account details of the supplier to make sure they are the authorised ones, and check the email addresses to make sure the sender is authentic
  • Call the supplier: do not use any contact numbers provided in the receipt, but find the original number through the organisation’s Contact Us page online

I have been scammed. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the receipt as evidence

2. Romance scams

The scammer pretends to befriend you to scam you. The scammer usually contacts the potential victims through social media, dating websites, or other platforms, often pretending to be someone they are not using false identities and photos. The consequences of romance scams are doubly hard, because victims must deal with both the financial loss and the psychological pain of being scammed by someone they trusted.

How can I spot a romance scam?

Romance scammers make a living out of the job, and can spend months building the ‘relationship’ before asking for sums of money. There is no definite way of spotting a scammer, but here are common signs:

  • Asks for money: making requests for money of any amount
  • Quick love: the relationship progresses very quickly
  • Personal troubles solved by money: framing personal troubles as solved only by money
  • Reluctant to meet: they are hesitant to meet face-to-face

How can I avoid being scammed?

  • Be careful about who you talk to online: be wary of people who are very loving and claim to have strong feelings for you before you have even met
  • Be careful with your money: it might be months before the topic of money is raised, but when it does, you should be on alert and keep a cool head
  • Do not respond to requests of money: since dating apps are increasingly matching people by location, people may be more likely to trust small requests for something like ‘lunch money’, which can quickly escalate to bigger scams
  • Avoid sharing personal details: do not share private information with someone you only know online and have not met face-to-face, especially in the form of photos or videos that could be used to blackmail you later
  • Contact the authorities: if you receive a message or call from someone who claims to be in trouble overseas and urgently needs you to send money, contact the police 

I think I have been scammed. What can I do?

  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately to cancel the card
  •  Contact the police and report the incident: although it is unlikely you will be able to get your money back, as most scams operate from overseas, they will be able to explain your options
  • Talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend, for support in this emotionally distressing time

 

3. Unwanted and unintended subscriptions or trials

On a website or via mobile messages/applications, you might be offered a cheap or free trial for a service (e.g., unlimited access of games and videos) for a limited time period, with a full refund if you are not satisfied by the end of the trial period. The sign-up process often involves entering your card details or being billed directly to your mobile phone subscription. You will then be signed up to an ongoing subscription without realising it, or you might know and intend to unsubscribe before the payment begins. After that, you will be automatically charged the subscription fee monthly and find that you are unable to cancel the subscription.

How can I avoid being scammed?

  • Search online for reviews of the business: almost every site has feedback online on how reliable their (un)subscription services are
  • Be careful of who you give credit card details too: it is quite common for these companies to switch from the free subscription to the premium version without informing you
  • Check the terms and conditions: read the information on the website or the mobile message/application carefully as this gives you information on how long the free subscription lasts and your ability to cancel
  • Set a reminder for when your free trial ends: remember to cancel your subscription before the trial period runs out
  • Switch to a direct debit: check if you can pay the subscription using a direct debit instead of a recurring charge on your card, as you can cancel a direct debit directly with your bank
  • Review your monthly bank or card statements: be aware of how much you are paying for your subscriptions so that you are aware of any unexpected price changes
  • If you aren’t sure, don’t sign up: if you cannot be sure that the website or service is reputable and that you will be able to stop paying when you wish, don’t start
  • Click close: if you have started the subscription process and want to stop, simple exit or close the page – do not rush to click on any buttons as that may cause you to sign up for the service

I have already signed up. What can I do?

  • Call the company: you might be on hold for a very long time, but speaking to the staff of the website or service is often the easiest way to cancel a subscription
  • Email the company: email the company to ask them to cancel your subscription, which is useful as proof that you have asked them to cancel your subscription
  • Contact your mobile provider: if the service is billed through your mobile subscription and you are unable to contact the company providing the service, approach your mobile provider with evidence that you have tried to cancel the subscription but have not been successful
  • Contact your bank: if the charge continues, you can try to contact your bank with evidence that you have tried to cancel the subscription but have not been successful
  • Cancel your card: to automatically bounce any payments made to the card, call your bank, cancel your card, and request a new one

4. Cold call scams

Although this is technically not an online scam, it is one of the most common scams in Singapore. Cold call scammers contact you on your home or mobile phone and try to sell you fake products, or pretend to be from a government agency. Their goal is to get either personal information or money from you.

How can I spot a cold call scam?

  • The call will be unexpected
  • Depending on the type of scam, the caller may be friendly or intimidating, e.g., if they are claiming you have not paid a bill, they might use scare tactics
  • They may know some details about you, usually sourced through your social media
  • They may ask you to pay a fee before you receive your product, e.g., they may claim that your parcel will not be released until you have paid a ‘tax’
  • They often pressure you into making a quick decision

What can I do if I get a cold call scam?

  • Say “no, thank you” and hang up the phone: don’t just say “I’m busy now” or they might take that as invitation to ask when you’re free and call again
  • Do not try to ‘trick’ the scammer or tell them off: they may continue to harass you
  • If you are unsure whether the call is from a scammer or a real organisation, hang up and call the organisation using their official contact number: search online for the official contact number instead of using any number they provide you as that could be fake as well
  • Save any messages they sent you online: take screenshots of all messages and save it before they can delete them for evidence

I have given my information/money. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If you have sent money or given your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the collected evidence

Calls or SMSes relating to loans, financial assistance and online gambling

You may receive unsolicited calls or SMSes from unknown sources offering loans or financial assistance, or inviting you to gamble online. Such calls and SMSes are likely to be associated with unlicensed moneylending and illegal gambling activities, which are serious criminal offences in Singapore.

What should I do if I receive an unsolicited call or SMS relating to loans, financial assistance or online gambling from an unknown source?

  • Do not reply to such call or SMS. Do not interact in any way.
  • Notify the Police directly by:
    • Lodging a Police Report;
    • Calling the National Crime Prevention Council’s ‘X Ah Long’ hotline at 1800-924-5664 (1800-X-AH-LONG); or
    • Providing information via i-Witness.

 

5. Phishing scams

Similar to the cold call scam, phishing is when a scammer tries to get personal information from a person. The name comes from ‘fishing’ – scammers are using email or phone ‘bait’ to ‘fish’ for personal information amongst a huge ‘sea’ of people online.

What are examples of phishing scams?

  • Impersonating a real organisation or person: the scammer sends an email with the branding and logos of a real organisation, and asks you to fill out a form, make a payment, or some other request that would require you to provide your personal information
  • Making a personal request: the email might look very personalised, e.g., claiming that a distant relative passed away and left you a fortune

[Personal information may include your full name, NRIC or passport number, personal mobile telephone number, credit card information, residential address, and even account passwords.]

How can I spot a phishing scam?

These emails can be difficult to spot – some are obvious while others are not. In fact, some scammers make their emails less reliable on purpose (think of the spelling mistakes riddling the Nigerian prince’s plea for cash) so as to attract only the most gullible ‘fish’. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Check the ‘from’ email address: remember that all official government email addresses end in ‘.gov.sg’
  • Look out for spelling or grammar mistakes, or poor graphics
  • Be careful of emails that look official but do not address you by name
  • Be careful of emails asking you to update your details online: go to the official site directly instead of clicking on links within the email
  • Hover your mouse over any links to check the destination address: if the address does not lead you to the expected website, do not click it
  • Be careful of emails telling you that you’ve won contests you don’t remember signing up for
  • Know that no bank, financial institution, email service provider, or website administer would email you to ask for your account information, password, or PIN
  • Search online using the exact wording of the email or the email address to check for references to a common scam
  • Do not download files or open attachments in emails from someone you do not know

I have received a phishing email. What can I do?

  • Do not reply to the email
  • Report the email to the platform, e.g., you can report emails on Gmail and other popular email service providers
  • If the email is pretending to be from a real organisation, you can forward it to the organisation to alert them and help keep others safe

I have given my information. What can I do?

  • If they have your passwords, change your passwords for all affected platforms immediately
  • If they have your card details, contact your bank immediately and make a police report using the email for evidence

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Protecting personal information

Personal information is anything that can be used to identify you in real life.

1. What are examples of personal information?

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Photos
  • Date of birth
  • NRIC number
  • School
  • Email address

2. When might I share personal information?

There are several activities online which require some disclosure of your personal information, including:

  • Registering: signing up for sites often requires a name and email address, but you may sometimes be asked for your gender, date of birth, and more, but a red asterisk (*) often marks out the fields you must enter to register
  • Shopping: sites may ask for further details to verify your identity, process payments, and make deliveries
  • Contests: these often require you to share extensive personal information, including your interests, which are then used by sellers to promote their goods or services

 

3. What happens if someone has my personal information

There are many possible consequences of sharing personal information, including:

  • Spam emails
  • Scams
  • Fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Damage to reputation

4. How can I protect my personal information?

  • Only use secure websites when sharing personal, and especially financial, information: look at the URL bar and check that it begins with https:// and has a ‘locked’ padlock symbol on the left, which indicates that your data is encrypted
  • Make sure that the websites are authentic by checking the URL address: there are many fake government websites trying to get your NRIC or passport number, and fake banking websites trying to get your financial information
  • Read user agreements and privacy policies: try not to give your email address to organisations that sell your information so as to prevent spam emails from flooding your inbox
  • Never share your password with anyone
  • Use a different password for each online account, and change them regularly
  • Set a strong password, which are more than 8 characters long, and include numbers, symbols, and both lowercase and uppercase letters. Here is how you can create a strong password:
    •  Think of a sentence with at least 8 words (Jack and Jill went up the hill)
    • Take the first letter of each word (jajwuth)
    • Change some letters to uppercase (JajwUth)
    • Change some letters to symbols (J&jwUth)
    • Add some numbers (J&jwUth2)

5. Someone has used my information. What can I do?

  • If someone has stolen your card details, contact your bank to cancel your card and ask them to issue you a new one
  • If someone has stolen your bank details and stolen money, contact your bank and the police to report the theft, and your bank can advise you on your options
  • If someone has stolen your password, change it on all affected platforms immediately
  • If you are constantly receiving spam emails, try to block the senders of the emails, but if the problem persists, you may have to create a new email address
  • If someone has used your personal information to harm you – such as by stealing your identity, or threatening to visit and harm you or your family – contact the authorities at 999

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Screen time management

Screen time is the amount of time spent on digital devices and media for fun.

1. How much screen time is too much?

As adults, we should not need someone to tell us how much time we should spend online or on our devices. But it is important stay aware of how much time you’re spending online, and the impact this has on both your work life – making sure that your work is not suffering – and your social life – making sure that your relationships with your friends and family are not being impacted. If any of these areas are being affected, then you probably need to cut back on how much time you spend online.

The same applies to your grandchild. Be aware of how much time they spend online and the impact this has on their life.

 

2. What are the effects of too much screen time?

  • Headaches
  • Eye strain
  • Back or other muscle pains from staying in one position for a long time
  • Being unable to sleep restfully every night
  • Constantly talking about something from your online life, such as a game or website
  • Thinking that your online activities and friends are more important than anything else
  • Disconnecting from the ‘real world’ and losing touch with your friends and family
  • Work suffering, e.g., constantly being late to work, missing deadlines, submitting work with many errors\

This does not mean there are no benefits to having screen time. There are websites, games, and apps that can help you meditate, gain literary skills, test your problem-solving skills, and more. However, the key is to find a good balance between your online and offline life and practice good self-control.

 

3. What can I do to reduce my screen time use?

  • Be aware of how much time you spend on your phone, like watching TV or Youtube
  • Keep yourself busy with other activities that do not rely on digital devices, such as taking a walk outside, meeting your friends, or reading a book
  • Have specific times of day where you, and your family members, put down your devices, such as during meal times or for an hour before you go to sleep
  • Set rules for how much time you can spend looking at screens every day, e.g., only watching 2 episodes of a show on TV, or taking a fifteen-minute break every hour

 

4. What can I do to help my grandchild reduce their screen time use?

  • Set rules for how much time they can spend looking at screens every day, like using their phone for only one hour
  • Do not let young children use their phones or watch TV to entertain them
  • Take part in activities that do not use digital devices, like bringing them out to do something as a family or playing a board game together