Vietnam’s fake document industry has upgraded for the information age.

Vietnam has one of the largest populations of Facebook users in the world and in the region. According to Noudhy Valdryno, a representative from Facebook’s Asia-Pacific Division, the country has 42 million daily users, accounting for 17 percent of Southeast Asia’s total 242 million. With a robust local Facebook user base comes darker implications such as the manifestation of fake news, bullying or porn bots.

In recent months, the local cybersphere is witnessing 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 could send a request to Facebook to have their deceased loved one’s account “memorialized.”



Facebook's memorial function once went haywire and showed the 'remembering' banner, which is only meant for memorialized accounts, on normal users, including Mark Zuckerberg.

“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 move 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 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 obituary (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.



Empty death certificate templates can be purchased for around US$5 online.

“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.

Each copy of empty death certificate and obituary ranges from 100,000 to 200,000 Vietnamese dong (US$4.30 to US$8.60) because these forms are hard to procure offline. Some “trickers” offer a complete “memorialization” package for 2 to 5 million VND (US$86 to US$215).

Such platform-based services are not uncommon in Vietnam, where influencers could live comfortably from livestreams or brand promotions on Facebook. Aspiring stars could buy likes, reactions, shares or even whole Facebook fanpage, 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.

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The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article from Saigoneer, an English-language digital platform covering urban development, history, food, culture and the arts in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and throughout Vietnam. The original can be found here.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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