Philippines experiences a surge in scam messages

by April Closa || Photo Credit: Tiffany Afable

The Philippines is currently experiencing a spike in fraud messages, which have recently become more rampant and aggressive, with some texts accurately including people’s first names.

The alarming surge has urged telecommunications companies to take action, with PLDT and Smart Communications blocking 23 million scam messages from June 11 to 14, 2022; and Globe Telecom Inc. blocking a total of 784 million unsolicited texts and scams, deactivating 14,058 scam-linked numbers, and blocklisting 8,973 numbers from January to July of the same year.

Last September 8, 2022, GCash updated its system and now censors letters in the recipient’s first names when sending money, compared to its previous version where inputting the recipient’s number completely reveals the corresponding first name and last name initial.

GCash’s new system update now censors the recipient’s name.

Through its initial investigation, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) suggested that the targeted scam messages seem to have been sourced from mobile numbers registered to text services instead of data aggregators.

“Contrary to a P2P transmission, data aggregators use an application-to-phone (A2P) transmission. The messages received through this transmission will not appear to have come from specific mobile numbers. Instead, it will come from a sender with [an] SMS ID (i.e., bank names, organization names, etc.) which identifies the data aggregator, or the brand or business name using the data aggregator’s service,” it said.

During the Committee on Public Services’ hearing last September 8, 2022, presided by Sen. Grace Poe, six senate bills presenting a mandatory SIM card registration were proposed, along with two resolutions to investigate the increasing number of scam messages. Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy also revealed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the ICT Ministry of Singapore that entails a collaboration between DICT and the ICT Ministry of Singapore on cybersecurity. Furthermore, Uy disclosed that Singapore is only one of the countries that the Philippines is eyeing to partner with in fortifying cybersecurity in the country.

Meanwhile, the NPC continues to investigate the sources for these targeted scam messages, examining format in name patterns registered in payment applications, mobile wallets, and messaging applications. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has also ordered telecommunication companies to text blast their consumers, alerting them about these text scams.

“As part of its next steps, the NPC will convene a meeting with representatives from the Telcos and government agencies, which include the NTC, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, on September 13, 2022,” the NPC stated.

The NPC alerts citizens to remain vigilant in protecting their private information.

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