Singapore minister Vivian Balakrishnan among several MPs to get fake image and threat letter

Singapore’s Indian-origin Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has shared on Facebook that he and several other Members of Parliament have “received letters including a fake distasteful image accompanied by a threat”.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the Global Emerging Tech Summit
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a fireside chat at the Global Emerging Tech Summit, in September 2023. He is one of the Members of Parliament in Singapore to have received fake images and extortion letters. Screenshot courtesy: Instagram/ vivianbalakrishnan

According to a CNA report, which Balakrishnan cited in his Facebook post yesterday, since March 2024 up until now, Singapore Police had received some 70 complaints of people being harassed by such images and letters.

The report was based on a Singapore Police Force press release dated April 19 that said: “The Police would like to alert members of the public to recent reported cases of extortionary mails. Between March and April 2024, the Police have received more than 70 reports where victims received extortionary letters via post containing manipulated photographs where the publicly sourced pictures of the victims’ faces would be superimposed on obscene photographs of a man and a woman purportedly in an intimate and compromising position.”

The police release added: “The letters warned of threatening consequences unless they contact the email address provided in the letters. In one of the reports, a 50-year-old victim suffered a loss of $20,000 after responding to the email address and transferred the money to a bank account allegedly provided by the other party.”

Corroborating this, Balakrishnan said in his Facebook post: “Many members of the public, several other MPs and I have received letters including a fake distasteful image accompanied by a threat. This conduct is deplorable and totally contrary to the values and good practices that we are trying to inculcate in our society. We have filed police reports and will take appropriate legal action.”

The Singapore minister said in the post: “In this age of deep fakes and scams, we must take a strong collective stand against such conduct.”

The Straits Times reported that Tan Wu Meng and Edward Chia were the other MPs who received such letters. Both have taken a stand against this on social media.

In a post on the social network X, Tan Wu Meng wrote: “If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone in the public arena, regardless of your views or political persuasion. It could happen to any one of you or your loved ones.”

He added: “I’d rather not speculate on why this is happening now, at a very important time in Singapore’s history.”

This mention of “very important time” might have been a reference to the upcoming change in national leadership on May 15, when Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong steps down and current Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong becomes the new head of state.

The Facebook account of Edward Chia Bing Hui informed the public in a post that he had “filed a police report”. Like others, he had received a letter. “Inside was a distasteful photo where my face was digitally manipulated onto one of the figures, accompanied by an extortion demand,” he wrote.

Chia wrote: “While it’s not uncommon for public figures to face extortion scams, the rise of ‘deepfakes’ makes it harder to discern reality from fiction. With readily available tools, anyone can create deepfake content within minutes. This can pose a significant threat to our social fabric. Unchecked, this can affect our public standing and those we love.”

Singapore politician Edward Chia Bing Hui at a community event
Singapore politician Edward Chia Bing Hui at a community event in July 2023. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Ong Jenn Shyan Jason

He urged the public: “We must unite as a community to combat these fraudulent acts. Weeding out these fakes requires a collective effort to verify and check suspicious content.

“Please join me in staying vigilant. If you encounter suspicious content, question the sender or source.

– Stay composed and refrain from sharing suspicious content further.

– ⁠Verify information with authoritative and trustworthy sources.”