Safer online transactions
For more than two months now, majority of workers have been doing their tasks at home because of the lockdown meant to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the easing of the quarantine especially in Metro Manila, many will still be working from their homes, relying on the internet for meetings, access to office documents, etc. They will also be accessing their bank accounts and transacting with suppliers of many of their needs online.
This emerging new normal, however, has raised the risk of falling prey to cybercriminals, especially for those who are not too familiar with technology, or how to keep their virtual environment secure for them and for their children who will most probably be likewise educated online.
The crimes are expected to be prevalent in the electronic payments sector. With the restrictions on the movement of people due to the lockdown, banking services and commercial transactions are being done through digital payment schemes. The Philippine Payments Management Inc., the group helping the Bangko
Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) implement the country’s shift to digital payments, has noted the big increase in the adoption of electronic payments. For instance, the number of transactions of digital payment service Instapay from March and April surged by 34 percent to nearly 16 million, from less than 12 million in pre-
lockdown January and February. The value of these transactions rose 27 percent to P96 billion. Another digital payment platform, PESONet, also saw its transaction value during the same period jump by 22 percent to P57 billion. These amounts, and the mainstreaming of e-commerce, are certainly enticing to cybercriminals who are tech-savvy the wrong way.
Digital payment firms and customers using their services have already been advised to be on guard against the rash of hacking attempts perpetrated by criminal elements on electronic transaction accounts.
Protecting oneself against these cyberpredators is paramount, and there are basic guidelines to follow. One, trust only legitimate channels when dealing with financial institutions online, meaning official websites and verified social media accounts. Never give out passwords online as banks have time and again reminded their clients that they never ask for these data online. This is particularly true in the criminal technique called “phishing,” where individuals are induced to disclose their personal information — even passwords and credit card numbers — through fake websites or emails that look very similar to the legitimate ones. When in doubt, get in touch with your bank first before interacting with and providing data to the entity that has reached out to you.
We should also educate ourselves on how to use digital payments and ensure the security of our financial accounts. Much of the literature on this is available online, and one that comes highly recommended by financial technology experts is PisoLit, the social media platform for financial education advocacy of the BSP. PisoLit is a Facebook account that targets online Filipinos, particularly millennials. Through this account, the BSP hopes to raise greater awareness about financial education and consumer protection among Filipino netizens.
Banks and e-money issuers also have a big role to play in ensuring the safety of digital transactions. They need to enhance and increase their capacity to accommodate the surge in e-payments, and protect their customers through continuous system upgrades and expanded online security measures against cyberthreats.
One other crime that is increasing in these difficult times is investment scamming, which lures victims with the promise of preposterous returns on their invested money. The Securities and Exchange Commission has already warned the public to avoid dozens of these investment schemes that easily proliferate and are usually perpetrated over social media. If it’s too good to be true, chances are it is a scam.
The digital world is a lifeline that has allowed us to do our transactions and work in the comfort of our homes while under lockdown. The caveat is that online theft and fraud are rising as well, with unscrupulous entities and syndicates roaming the digital realm looking for prey. Be alert always.
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