6 February 2014

Why you should guard your personal information

Singapore citizens and permanent residents will remember that the serial number for their passports used to be the same as for their national registration identity cards (NRICs) prior to 2006, when the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) switched to the more secure biometric passports, or BioPass. 

In line with requirements laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the ICA explained at the time that "the book inventory control number will be adopted as the passport number. In other words, the passport number for BioPass will no longer be the holder's NRIC number."

In Singapore, any citizen or permanent resident over the age of 15 has to apply for an NRIC for identification purposes. 

"All lawful residents in Singapore who are of the age of 15 years old are required to register for their first identity card (IC). Re-registration is at the age of 30 years. This is in accordance to the National Registration Act and Regulations," reads the ICA website.

Students from expats and expats are issued a similar document called the FIN, or foreign identification number. The credit card-sized document is handy as photo identification, and is often used to record a person's entry and exit from office buildings.

Vic Mankotia, Vice President, Solution Strategy, Asia Pacific and Japan at CA Technologies, notes that it is safer for the passport number to be different from the NRIC number, as the unique NRIC number can be misused if it falls into the wrong hands. Where losing a passport with the NRIC number might have opened up opportunities to create chaos in the past, this is no longer possible.

"If your FIN (NRIC) is stolen, the thief could call up a bank and cancel your credit cards. If you can't answer (anything), the questions just get easier and easier," Mankotia said.

From personal experience, call centre agents, for example those representing a bank, usually verify that a caller is genuine by asking for the caller's NRIC number, then the date of birth, and possibly the postal address as well. All of this information is clearly displayed on the same document - the NRIC. 

While credit card statements do not have NRIC information, they typically list the name of the credit card owner, the credit card number, as well as the mailing address. This is enough information for a sweet-talking stranger to impersonate someone when it comes to requesting that a credit card be cancelled.

While no one deliberately loses or damages their NRIC, theft or accidents can happen. Updating your banks as soon as possible after the loss is discovered is imperative, even if you still have your ATM and credit cards. Anything could happen if the thief gets to them before you do. Mankotia also suggests that a copy of the passport, stored in cloud-based email, can come in useful in the event of loss or theft as "you can show what it is you have lost".

In 2012, Koh Wee Sing, Head, Public & Internal Communications, Corporate Communications Division, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, noted in a response to an enquiry that NRIC holders have the responsibility of safekeeping their NRICs and the information on it to avoid being potential victims of crime.

"Any person who knowingly obtains or has possession of or makes use of a forged identity card or an identity card other than his own is committing an offence and will be dealt with under the law," Koh said at the time. 

But that is poor consolation if the criminal has already left a trail of chaos behind him or her.

*Singapore citizens and permanent residents who reach the age of 15 must register for their identity cards (IC) before their 16th birthday. Identity card (IC) re-registration is required for all Singapore IC holders who have reached 30 years of age on or after 1 Jan 2002 and who have not been issued with a replacement IC within the last 10 years before reaching the age of 30.

*Singapore Citizens and permanent residents whose identity cards are damaged or defaced are required to apply for a replacement within 14 days from the date of damage/defacement. Those who wish to change their particulars/ photographs may also apply for a replacement.