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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Understanding how to fight text scammers

“Be vigilant, be informed, and be proactive for a safer digital environment”

Text scammers are still on the prowl despite the enforcement of the SIM Card Registration Law and even after the lapse of the extended deadline for registering all SIM card users, text scammers remain undeterred.

They persistently target millions of unsuspecting mobile phone users, employing an array of increasingly ingenious and deceptive tactics in their cybercrime schemes.

These tech powered fraudsters have become adept at the craft of trickery, skillfully incorporating Filipino social subtleties for the propagation of their deceitful financial plots. This highlights not only the audacity but also the complexity of the cybercrime networks behind text scams.

Social engineering is a key tactic used by cybercriminal syndicates in the Philippines to carry out text scams. Here’s how they do it:

Pretexting: Scammers create a believable situation that convinces the target to reveal personal or valuable information.

They often pretend to be someone legitimate or familiar to make the target feel comfortable, such as a customer service agent from their internet service provider, a co-worker from a different branch or office, or someone from the company’s IT support.

Phishing: Despite increased public awareness, phishing is still widely used and effective. Scammers send emails or text messages pretending to be a trusted entity, such as the company CEO or a bank, to trick the recipient into revealing sensitive information.

Smishing: This is a form of phishing that involves a text message. Scammers use elements of social engineering to gain the trust of the victim to divulge personal information.

Use of Filipino Social Nuances: Scammers have even applied Filipino social nuances to convincingly impersonate banks or e-payment platforms to propagate fraudulent financial schemes.

Use of Over-The-Top (OTT) Platforms: News reports and even public statements by some government officials have pointed to “pre-registered” SIM cards being used for persisting waves of text scams. Apparently, this is an inaccurate term.

What’s really happening is that syndicates have shifted to OTT platforms such as WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and Messenger.

These messaging services allow users to send messages over the internet, bypassing traditional text messaging services provided by Philippine telecom companies.

Since these services use the internet, they don’t require a SIM card to operate. This allows scammers to send messages without being traced back to a registered SIM card.

International SIM Cards: Some scammers use SIM cards issued by international telecom providers. These SIM cards are not subject to the SIM Card Registration Law of a specific country, allowing scammers to operate without registering their SIM cards.

Purchase of registered SIM Cards: Syndicates have been procuring registered SIM cards. This allows them to operate under the identity of the original SIM card owner, making it difficult for authorities to trace the scam back to them.

The National Privacy Commission warned that the selling of registered SIM cards is not only unethical but also illegal. Violators may face fines of P100,000 to P300,000 and/or imprisonment of six months to six years.

Recent reports on the capture by authorities of 107,000 SIM cards seized in POGO hubs, which were being utilized for “text” and “love” scam operations, underscores the existence of organized criminal groups orchestrating these text scamming activities.

This not only highlights the scale of these operations but also the capacity of these syndicates to finance and mobilize technical talent for illicit purposes.

Love scams typically involve a scammer creating a fake profile to court victims online.

The relationship and trust between the scammer and victim develop at a fast pace. The scammer then asks the victim for money and will vanish after receiving it.

One example of a “love” or “romance” scam involved the arrest of three suspects who were allegedly operating in Las Piñas City. They managed to swindle over P200,000 from their victim. Two of the suspects were of Nigerian descent, while the other was Filipino.

A recent Kaspersky study revealed that one in two, or 45 percent of people surveyed in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, lost money to online love scams.

The oldest and loneliest group lost the most — over half a million pesos, from online romance fraud.

The National Telecommunications Commission has issued Memorandum Order 010-09-20231, setting strict guidelines for SIM registrations, including ID and detail verification.

This is in response to test submissions revealing that fraudulent IDs and details could bypass telecom companies’ SIM registration platforms.

In a published statement, our co-convenor in CitizenWatch Philippines and former Quezon City 6th district representative Christopher “Kit” Belmonte pointed out that “beyond more stringent policies and guidelines, we must approach this wave of cybercrimes holistically wherein the government, the telco industry, and all mobile phone users must actively fight text scammers.”

We at CitizenWatch Philippines call upon all sectors of society to unite in the fight against text scams and cybercrime.

This is not just a battle for the government or the telecommunications industry, but for every individual, every family, every community, and every business.

Don’t wait until you become a victim of cyber scammers.

Be vigilant, be informed, and be proactive for a safer digital environment.

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