Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday chided the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for being remiss in its job to avert the spread of text scams currently victimizing millions of mobile users.
This developed as GCash, the mobile wallet of Globe Telecom, rolled out a feature update that anonymizes the names of users of its send-money service as an added customer protection measure.
Previously, the recipient’s name would be seen during the transaction as an added convenience to the GCash sender and helps verify that the recipient person is correct.
Sen. Mark A. Villar also expressed support for the passage of measures “that will protect the public against unscrupulous individuals who are taking advantage of modern technology for their fraudulent schemes.”
During the hybrid hearing of the Committee on Public Services on text scams, Villar said he filed Senate Bill 225 to protect the integrity of online transactions from illegal schemes such as phishing and smishing (SMS phishing).
Noting the spread of fake news through social media, messaging mobile applications, and short message service or SMS “triggered the political divide among Filipinos,” Sen. Robin Padilla pushed for an inter-agency approach to avert and prevent abuse of the Internet and other tools for information and communication.
Conceding that no single government agency can effectively fight fake news, Padilla filed Senate Resolution 191, which seeks to enhance the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and related laws.
In yesterday’s Senate Public Services Committee hearing on Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card registration, Poe noted that the NTC appeared to be doing only public information work by telling local telecommunication companies to issue warnings against the fraudulent practices.
“Don’t you have complaint hotlines? Have you caught anyone?” Poe asked NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, who replied that the hotline is on the agency’s website—which he could not recite.
“You don’t memorize your hotline number? If you do not know your hotline number, how can you expect us to know it? I’m very disappointed,” said Poe.
The senator said if the NTC is really serious about this issue, this would be at the top of their head.
Poe, who heads the panel, also expressed exasperation when Cordoba told her that for 2022, the agency has blocked only 800 messages.
“We were not able to trace the numbers. We blocked them through the telcos,” the NTC chief said.
Poe replied, saying: “How many have cell phones (are in the country)—around 100 million? You only blocked 800? This is so tragic.”
The senator told the NTC to exert more effort and allocate more time to give orders to telcos to warn their subscribers about the practice.
The inquiry tackled six Senate bills that propose the mandatory registration of SIM cards, including the measure filed by Poe.
The panel also considered two resolutions seeking an investigation into the rising number of text scams.
Aside from scamming, Poe said phones are also used in terrorist activities, spreading fake news, enabling “trolls,” cyberbullying, and other forms of fraud like phishing that necessitate the registration of SIM cards.
Poe asked relevant government agencies and telcos to explain the actions they have taken to combat the text scams.
In introducing its new feature, Mark Frogoso, Chief Information Security Officer of GCash, said: “We need to strike a balance between customer experience and strengthening measures to keep user information safe from unscrupulous individuals.”
“The feature that shows the full names of recipients was intended to help users verify if they are sending to the right person and avoid being scammed,” Frogoso added.
The e-wallet has also migrated transaction confirmations from text messages to the app’s inbox to improve security and provide customers with easier access to their transaction history, the official said.
GCash also asserts the integrity of the data of its 66 million users, saying there has been no data breach or leak in its systems.
“We have been working closely with the National Privacy Commission on the issue of text scams with names. We wish to assure our customers that our systems and infrastructure remain secure and there is no incidence of any data leak or breach,” Frogoso said.
“Protecting the personal information of our customers remains a top priority which we believe is integral to our vision of achieving ‘Finance for All,’” he added.
GCash has been getting support from its parent company, Globe Telecom, which has spent $20 million or about P1.1 billion to boost its capabilities in detecting and blocking scam and spam messages.
Through vigorous 24/7 efforts, Globe blocked 784 million scam and spam messages from January to July this year, deactivated 14,058 scam linked SIMs, and blacklisted 8,973 others. Globe also blocked 610 domains or uniform resource locators (URL), it said in a statement.
GCash ensures the protection of personal data and accounts of its customers by employing various security measures including cyber threat detection and analytics, vulnerability scanning, as well as incident response, and forensics.
GCash has been relentless in working with authorities as it was able to block 1.37 million fraudulent accounts from January 2021 to July 2022, on top of those blocked by its security systems. Further, GCash has helped arrest fraudsters that have been targeting the hard-earned money of its users.
“As a result of being the most used e-wallet with the largest user base in the Philippines, it is imperative for us to be ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting the personal information and funds that our customers have entrusted to us,” Frogoso said.