Users confused as SMSes from legitimate firms get flagged as ‘likely scam’


SINGAPORE – Financial adviser Tan Zhi Liang thought he had been scammed after buying flight tickets to South Korea from Trip.com, when he saw a booking verification SMS flagged as “likely scam”.

Mr Tan, 29, said: “I thought I had made a purchase from a scam site. I found it weird at first, but I double-checked my booking and it was there, so I didn’t worry too much then.”

He is among a handful of Internet users who received SMSes marked as “likely scam” after a new system by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) dubbed the SMS Sender ID Registry kicked in on Tuesday to alert users to possible scam messages.

But some of these SMSes marked as “likely scam” have come from legitimate businesses for genuine communications, leading to confusion among some Internet users.

Tech consultant Tricia Chia hesitated to log into her firm’s insurance provider Cigna to make a medical claim when she received an SMS with the “likely scam” label containing a verification code.

“I got scared and didn’t dare to complete my task because I didn’t want to get scammed,” said Ms Chia, 25.

She later logged in to her account using the verification code after a friend told her about the SMS registry, and the possibility of legitimate business communications being wrongly labelled at the start.

The registry, which is able to detect and block spoofed SMSes upfront, currently labels SMSes that use alphanumeric sender names as “likely scam” if the senders have not listed with it. From July, SMSes from businesses not listed on the registry will be entirely blocked.

Ms Konstance Lim, 26, who received a one-time verification code from event planning app Partiful, said she thought it was a new function by the mobile network provider to flag sources that may not be widely-known.

“But I continued with it since the website was recommended by a friend, so I trusted that it won’t be a scam,” said the product manager.

Users also received SMSes marked “likely scam” from e-retailer Amazon and online gaming site Stream, according to screenshots seen by The Straits Times.

ST has contacted Trip.com, Partiful, Cigna, Amazon and Stream for a comment. ST has also asked IMDA what it plans to do to educate users and businesses to minimise confusion.

Users had also received such SMSes from Okta, a widely-used access management provider that issues authentication codes to users. Okta told ST that it is in the midst of registration.

ST understands the Meta has applied for the registry and is in the midst of getting various sender names approved. During this process, some Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram users may receive authentication SMSes labelled with a five-digit number in the interim, instead of a typical sender ID.



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