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Misuse of home addresses for migrant workers continues; about 1,000 cases a year since 2020

SINGAPORE: Official records once showed Ruzaidie Dar Surnik’s home to be where five migrant workers resided, only it wasn’t true.

He discovered this falsehood by chance, through a fellow member of a parents’ support group who had had the same misfortune.

Ruzaidie reported his case to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and said it took about three weeks for things to be rectified.

When he posted about his experience on Facebook in April 2019, he received feedback from others who said, “Me too.”

That year, the MOM’s Foreign Worker Tenant Enquiry Service (FWTES) began allowing home owners to check the details of migrant workers registered as residing in their public flat or private residence.

It seems that the problem has not let up.

Since 2020, the MOM has stepped up inspections and discovered around 1,000 cases each year involving the false declaration of residential addresses as housing addresses for migrant workers, the ministry told the programme Talking Point.

It has also taken enforcement action against more than 2,000 errant employers since 2020.

Offenders may face fines of up to S$20,000 and/or up to 24 months in jail for each false declaration, in addition to being barred from hiring migrant workers.

WATCH: How your home address could be leaked — who knows where you live? (22:28)

Migrant workers who provide false address information to their employers will have their work permits revoked and be barred from working in Singapore, the ministry added.

Since last May, the registration of new addresses in the FWTES system has not been allowed unless the home owners have given their consent.

The MOM said it will be screening current registered addresses to “surface the remaining false address declarations and clean this up”.

COULD THE NUMBER OF CASES BE HIGHER?

After four years, Ruzaidie is still worried about his address being misused.

The 45-year-old and his wife, who have two young daughters, have installed a closed-circuit television camera outside their condominium unit as an added layer of protection against any vice-related or loan shark activities.

Employers are obliged to provide acceptable accommodation for their employees but “may not be able to find the space to house them in legal spaces” such as licensed dormitories, Jaya said.

She thinks this is why the employers use false information when registering the addresses. The actual number of cases could be higher than the 1,000 or so being discovered annually, because “not everyone is aware of this trend”, she added.

He said these sites may get information from leaked or hacked databases, and there are tools such as bots that automatically search for and scrape data found online — for instance, personal data provided by individuals using consumer marketplace apps or by those who have participated in lucky draws.

They could also have taken part in personality quizzes or filled in dating profiles, cited Ong.

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What can individuals do, then, if they find their names and home addresses on various online platforms? Contact the platform providers to request that the information be taken down, said Prakash.

A more pre-emptive measure could be to rent and use Post Office boxes or private mailboxes instead of one’s home address when shopping online, suggested Dexter Ng, chief technology officer of Privacy Ninja, which offers data protection and other services.

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