As unemployment slightly increased in September 2021 due to strict quarantines and weather disturbances, so did scams in online payments and transactions, resulting in more complex and difficult-to-detect fraud incidents.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 8.9 percent of Filipinos are left jobless by the pandemic, making online job offers and invitations tempting. On the other hand, the more techsavvy would immediately spot several cautions in the request, including an unusual phone number, an unknown sender, unidentified firms or companies, and ambiguous job descriptions, which are all directed to a website through a link - a dubious tactic used by click-bait scammers.

“These types of messaging might mislead in a country where unemployment and digital misinformation are rampant,” Senate Labor Committee Chairperson Senator Joel Villanueva cautioned in an interview with Rappler, adding, “Apart from being an irritating intrusion into one’s privacy, such SMS offers on overseas employment violate rules in labor placement, an industry that the government carefully controls to protect job searchers from being exploited by unlawful recruiters.”

Moreover, the Security Bank Corporation shared that they have also seen an increase in online scams as people are looking for business opportunities due to limited sources of income. The most common is “phishing,” which involves sending emails that appear to come from a reputable firm to obtain private information to gain access to one’s digital financial accounts. Other types of digital frauds include “smishing,” which uses SMS text messages, and “vishing,” which uses voice calls that appear to be from legitimate businesses. In the end, no employment was given, and everything was a hoax to steal and profit from the recipient’s financial information.

The extensive healthdeclaration forms, which individuals had to fill out with personal information before setting foot in any venue, could be a way fraudsters gained access to contact information. It is true that these are to limit exposure to sick people who have been identified, but they are also vulnerable to privacy violations because they are collected randomly and packed into generic boxes with no government oversight on where and how they should be handled.

Even if the National Privacy Commission (NPC) has disputed that the stolen data came via contact-tracing forms, who can blame people for having legitimate concerns? Was there ever a conscious effort to protect the data, and if so, how successful was it? Such questions remain unresolved as an NPC official claimed that illegally obtained mobile numbers were orchestrated by a global organized syndicate rather than through contact-tracing procedures.

While the administration is still trying to put its act together to safeguard the people, customers have been urged by the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) to be extra cautious to the increasing sophistication of online scams. While banks and other financial technology firms invest extensively in efforts to improve the security of their online systems, customers bear an equal amount of responsibility for the safety of their accounts and transactions.

The public should check the legitimacy of messages and emails they receive regularly; protect their sensitive information; and be cautious with their online activities, such as refraining from posting photos of documents containing sensitive information that online fraudsters could skim.

Furthermore, policymakers must safeguard the general people against cybercriminals. For instance, a need to pass certain bills currently pending in Congress, such as the proposed No Call, No Text, and No Email Registration System Act, which would make it illegal for nonregistered numbers to use an automated dialer or any other electronic device that could send messages to phone numbers. Through such legislation and sanctions, cybercrime would be deterred, and disciplinary action would be administered.

The online job offers look enticing enough these days, with a daily salary that is much more than industry standards and easy access to the provided links, but one must be wary of texts, emails, or phone calls that lead to bogus websites that one can unintentionally click. Such links, as the NPC mentioned, “need personal action

Published: April 25, 2022