It is “likely” that foreign syndicates could be bankrolling text scams targeting Filipino consumers, SMART Communications, Inc. (Smart) said Friday.
“Based on our initial investigation and through our cooperation with law enforcement agencies and state investigators, it is highly possible that foreigners are behind the text scams that have plagued mobile users in the country,” said Angel Redoble, first vice president and chief information security officer of PLDT and Smart.
“They are working with domestic operators to purchase prepaid SIMs in bulk and use these to send ‘smishing’ messages,” he added.
The investigation of PLDT and Smart’s Cyber Security Operations Group (CSOG) showed that the latest smishing attacks are most likely being sent person-to-person and do not originate from aggregators.
Smart has intensified efforts against “smishing” or SMS (short messaging service) phishing attacks. From June to August alone, Smart has deactivated 167,000 SIMs that were involved in the illegal activity.
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending messages – originally emails — purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
It gained traction locally over the last month as subscribers from Smart, Globe, and other local telecommunication companies started receiving messages from anonymous senders bearing their own names, raising data privacy alarms with the public and authorities alike.
Smart has thrown its support behind the proposed SIM card registration bill that was recently approved on second reading by lawmakers. Prepaid SIMs in the Philippines are often sold without getting the customer’s personal information.
While waiting for the measure to be enacted into law, Smart says it is streamlining processes to efficiently collect relevant customer data and ensure that these are protected at all levels. It’s also checking vulnerabilities of other platforms that might be exploited by scammers once the law goes into effect.
Smart has also welcomed the government-led joint investigation into the illegal activity. It has been closely coordinating with law enforcers and regulators.
“We need a whole-of-community approach. We are sharing relevant information with authorities to identify the perpetrators. We also need to find out how the criminals were able to amass mobile numbers so we can find a solution that will further protect personal data,” Redoble said.
Smart also urges customers to refrain from engaging scammers and to avoid clicking the links that are often found in these messages.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, in his co-sponsorship of Senate Bill No. 1310 that mandates SIM card registration, said the proliferation of text scams preys on the poor and unemployed.
In a plenary session on Sept. 13, Villanueva said with an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent in July, jobless people need real opportunities and not scams.
He said the anonymity of SIM card owners has been exploited by criminals.
Earlier, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued an order directing mobile phone manufacturers, distributors, and dealers to assist mobile phone users in activating the text-blocking feature on mobile devices amid rising text message scams.
On Wednesday, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda urged the National Bureau of Investigation to catch and prosecute perpetrators of recent mass text message scams, also known as ‘smishing,’ received by millions of mobile phone users in recent weeks.