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Ex-Singtel executive jailed for using customers’ IC numbers to redeem vouchers to buy Apple watches, earphones

SINGAPORE — A Singtel employee exploited a loophole in the telecommunications company’s internal computer system, using the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) numbers of 22 customers to redeem thousands of dollars worth of electronic vouchers.

Ex-Singtel executive jailed for using customers’ IC numbers to redeem vouchers to buy Apple watches, earphones

Former Singtel sales executive Chia Zijie used the vouchers to buy 14 Apple watches and a pair of Jabra Elite earphones.

  • Chia Zijie bought 14 Apple watches and a pair of earphones with the vouchers
  • He earned S$7,200 from reselling most of them to a third-party retailer
  • He orchestrated the scheme by nudging customers to switch to new phone plans

 

SINGAPORE — A Singtel employee exploited a loophole in the telecommunications company’s internal computer system, using the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) numbers of 22 customers to redeem thousands of dollars worth of electronic vouchers. 

Chia Zijie used the vouchers redeemed at Singtel’s flagship store at Comcentre to buy 14 Apple watches and a pair of Jabra Elite earphones. He earned S$7,200 from reselling most of them.

On Thursday (Aug 27), the 28-year-old Malaysian and Singapore permanent resident was sentenced to 12 weeks’ jail.

He pleaded guilty to unauthorised modification of computer material under the Computer Misuse Act.

Chia began working as a sales executive at Singtel in September 2018. 

He helped walk-in customers process their applications for Singtel services, which included phone lines and internet services.

When customers said they wanted to renew their phone line contracts with Singtel, Chia compared their existing plans with other Singtel plans.

He then promoted better deals, encouraging the subscribers to switch to a new plan instead of renewing their existing one.

As part of Singtel’s standard operating procedure, he also told customers that if they wanted to switch to a new plan, they would have to give up their eligibility for electronic vouchers tagged to the recontracting of their existing plan.

THE SCHEME

In June 2019, Chia began compiling a list of customers who had switched to a new plan and their NRIC numbers, which he obtained while interacting with them.

He knew that even though they had agreed to forgo their eligibility, the vouchers would still be recognised as valid because they were not automatically voided by Singtel’s internal computer system.

Chia redeemed vouchers tagged to 22 customers on 15 occasions between June 11 and Aug 12, 2019. 

Afterwards, he told his colleagues who were handling stocks of electronic goods that customers wanted to buy the equipment.

He processed payment for the goods using the cashier system, then paid the remaining amount after using the vouchers by keying in the subscribers’ NRIC numbers as well as other applicable discounts. 

He admitted doing this out of greed and to earn extra cash. 

He ended up redeeming S$8,576 worth of vouchers, using them to buy the Series 4 Apple watches and a pair of Jabra Elite Active 65t wireless earphones. 

They had a combined retail value of about S$10,800.

His offences came to light on Aug 13, 2019, after a customer alerted Singtel to the use of a voucher and the telco started an investigation.

Singtel fired Chia about two weeks later and filed a police report.

The telco recovered two unopened Apple watches, while Chia kept the earphones for himself. He sold the other 12 watches to a third-party retailer, keeping the profits for himself.

He has since repaid the sums to Singtel.

MANIPULATION OF IT SYSTEMS MUST BE ‘STRENUOUSLY DETERRED’

In sentencing Chia, District Judge Marvin Bay said Chia’s acts showed significant premeditation, persisting for two months before he was caught.

District Judge Bay added: “What is especially egregious is the manner of the accused’s abuse of his position as a sales executive of Singtel, which involved him handling sensitive and personal information of customers.

“The sentence must be sufficiently severe to serve as an appropriate deterrent, particularly with the reliance on IT... systems, which are becoming increasingly important in our digitally connected society (that) is oriented strongly towards online transactions and cyber commerce.”

The manipulation of such systems, which is easy to carry out but hard to detect, must be “strenuously deterred” to maintain public confidence that personal information is not “wantonly exploited for material gain”, District Judge Bay said. 

Chia could have been punished with a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, a spokesperson for Singtel said that the telco has a “zero-tolerance policy for such misconduct”.

It ended Chia’s employment and reported the offence to the authorities once it became aware of it, the spokesperson added.

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