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Scam-proofing the countryside

/ 04:03 AM September 01, 2021

It was an ordinary day — or so Nanay Nilda thought. She had just finished hawking her homemade kutsinta around her sitio when she got a call on her old but reliable Nokia. The caller introduced himself as Jon, allegedly a representative from her cooperative. After the short introduction, she was told that the cooperative needed an account update and, thus, could she please confirm that what they had on record was correct?

What was she to lose? Jon seemed amiable and trustworthy, Nanay Nilda thought.

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“Can you confirm your user name, ‘Nay,” Jon asked in the vernacular. Nanay Nilda gave it.

“That is correct,” he replied. “And the password?”

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Maybe it was the heat or the fatigue from spending half of her morning under the sun. Or maybe it was the other party’s friendly and soothing voice.

Nanay Nilda gave the password.

“That is correct,” he said. “Thank you. Please wait for another call from us so that you can use your coop card again. Good day.”

It took a minute for Nanay Nilda to realize that she did not even catch the person’s last name. She thought of calling him back, but realized she could not; she did not have any cellphone load to make a call.

For most of us who have been online most of our life, we cannot wrap our minds around the fact that such a scenario is still happening in this day and age — a sort of cyber budol-budol. I have seen — based on my visits around the country advocating for the digital transformation of cooperatives — that there are still many who fall prey easily to scammers and fraudsters.

Today, online predators employ various creative ways of capturing sensitive information and user credentials: spear phishing, whaling, spoofing links, vishing (that’s the malevolent act of using a phone to solicit financial or personal details), to name a few.

Meanwhile, many victims compromise their user credentials for varied reasons, naiveté or cluelessness among them.

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The Philippine Statistics Authority survey on mass media exposure of Filipinos in 2019 indicated that Filipinos 10-64 years old are least exposed to surfing the internet for research work and email (63.6 percent), reading a newspaper (63.3 percent), and writing a report/correspondence (43.9 percent). Filipinos’ penchant for internet surfing was more for social media use than for research work. This holds true for urban and rural areas, for both sexes, and across age groups.

Thus, while we are a nation of social media-happy people, this does not necessarily equate to a high online IQ. We may attribute this lack of information about the internet (and everything in between) to the lack of telecom infrastructure or internet access in some parts of the country. The Philippines’ first-ever National ICT Household Survey in 2019 noted that only about 17.7 percent of households have their own internet access at home. BARMM, Regions IX, X, V, IV-A, and Caraga have the most number of households without internet access.

But that is just half of the story.

As the lead of the IT management arm of a cooperatives’ platform, I, along with my team, conduct webinars and, where possible, seminars in Mindanao that focus on how to access and use the platform. We soon realized that transitioning non-digital platform users to the digital space needed to go beyond merely acclimatizing them to the functionalities of an app or a browser-based platform. On the ground, we heard horror stories about cooperative store owners who unknowingly (or knowingly, but with no malicious intent) shared their computer passwords or their user credentials with outside parties. This, sadly, could have been prevented had they understood the purpose of such credentials for cyber security.

Although platforms already have extra layers of security in place such as one-time pin codes, IT companies and cooperatives alike should follow the lead of banks in continuously educating their users. However, while banks can settle with email and mail notifications sent to their urban clients, our team needed to travel at times city by city, or sitio by sitio, for the in-depth training of cooperatives in the countryside — trainings that now include a segment on cyber security.

Many say technology is the great equalizer of opportunities. I say technology and education are the great equalizers of opportunities.

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Ann Cuisia is the chair of Traxion Technology Services Cooperative, which aims to enable communities by providing a ready, unified platform with a suite of cooperative management, payment, core banking, and core insurance systems.

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TAGS: Ann Cuisia, Commentary, online scams, rural internet access
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