Vietnam’s fake document industry has upgraded for the information age.
Vietnam has one of the largest populations of Facebook users in the world. According to Noudhy Valdryno, a representative from Facebook’s Asia-Pacific Division, the country has 42 million daily users, accounting for 17% of Southeast Asia’s total 242 million. With a robust local Facebook user base comes darker implications, however, such as the manifestation of fake news, bullying or porn bots.
In recent months, the local cybersphere has witnessed the rise of a much more sinister hacking trick that makes use of the platform’s memorialization function, reports Zing. Currently, if a user passes away, close friends and family can send a request to Facebook to have their deceased loved one’s account “memorialized.”
“After someone has passed away, we’ll memorialize their account if a family member or friend submits a request. Keep in mind that memorialization is a big decision. If you’re not a family member or close friend of the person who passed away, we recommend reaching out to the person’s family before requesting memorialization,” Facebook writes in its help section.
At its core, the option has good intentions, and could be a useful way to keep the memories of the deceased intact on their Facebook page. Friends and family members only need to provide documents proving the death, such as a death certificate or obituary, for consideration. Once memorialized, the account is secured by Facebook, preventing further attempts to log in and protecting the deceased’s personal information.
However, what started out as a kind gesture quickly turned sinister in the hands of entrepreneurial Vietnamese hackers. A cursory search on Facebook shows a host of individuals offering services to execute “attack by memorialization.” These hackers, known as “trickers” in the local online community, can create fake death certificates and obituaries (cáo phó) using simple PSD templates to impose administrative “death” on victims.
The reviewing process conducted by Facebook is painfully simple: enter the Facebook name and date of death of the supposedly deceased person, submit the necessary documents, and wait for the review team.
“At the end of the day, Facebook is just a social media platform, examining government documents is not their expertise. Therefore, Facebook can be fooled by charlatans easily,” Phan Van Khai, who has been providing Facebook-related services for years, told the news source in Vietnamese.
One copy of an empty death certificate or obituary ranges from VND100,000 to VND200,000 because these forms are hard to procure offline. Some “trickers” offer a complete “memorialization” package for VND2-5 million.
Such platform-based services are not uncommon in Vietnam, where influencers can live comfortably from livestreams or brand promotions on Facebook. Aspiring stars can buy likes, reactions, shares or even whole Facebook fanpages, as long as they have the money to shell out. However, these transactions are usually for promotional purposes, while the memorial hack is purely to exact petty revenge on victims, as memorialized accounts will be de-prioritized from public spheres.