Whole-of-nation approach against cyber scams
What do you do when you fall for a cyber scam? Who do you report to? Aside from the financial and emotional damage, those who have the unfortunate experience of being scammed must also take bureaucratic steps to report the incident if they want it to be investigated.
In the Philippines, a victim can initially report the incident to his or her bank. After that, he or she could reach out to different government agencies namely, the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC).
While there are merits to having several agencies to report to, this can also cause confusion and discourage victims from reporting the incident to authorities. The question is, how do we make it easier for victims to report these cybercrimes? Perhaps, a single agency in charge of scam prevention and investigation can be the solution?
An example of a consolidated response to cybercrime is the Anti-Scam Centre (ASC) in Singapore. Established on June 18, 2019, the ASC is described as the “nerve center” for investigating scams, disrupting scammers’ operations, and mitigating victims’ losses. Going on its fourth year of operations, it continues to fulfill its role as Singapore’s primary anti-scam agency. It is headed by the Singapore Police Force and follows a multipronged approach to cybercrime.
The first prong is enforcement and involves intercepting the flow of victims’ money and freezing the bank accounts of scammers; second is through engagement done by forging a strong partnership with different banks for immediate tracing and retrieval of funds; third is engineering with ASC using new technologies to detect and analyze scam trends all over the country to deter criminal operations; final prong is education with ASC working with other agencies such as Singapore’s National Crime Prevention Council and community groups to train bank officers and inform the public how to take preventive actions from scams.
Is an anti-scam center a pipe dream for the Philippines? I argue that we can emulate Singapore’s model. For one, there is already an interagency effort to fight scammers, especially those behind “smishing” (SMS phishing) and text spams. The National Privacy Commission (NPC) announced in December 2021 that a group consisting of the NPC, DOJ, CICC, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Trade and Industry, the National Telecommunications Commission, National Security Council, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council are working together to investigate and address complaints about fake job offers sent through text messages.
The DOJ is also collaborating with government agencies and the private sector to formulate the National Cybercrime Strategy that will consolidate existing policies that aim to combat cybercrime. To strengthen its partnership with the private sector, the DOJ has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) to create a coordinated and strategic response to cybercrimes.
Furthermore, the MOU allows the involved parties to work closely through learning and information-sharing activities that will improve the government and the banking industry’s efforts against cyberattacks.
Lastly, the BSP has been working closely with its supervised financial institutions (BSFIs) to address growing cybercrime threats. Just recently, the BSP has approved a new set of rules on BSFI’s fraud management systems through the BSP Circular No. 1140. This requires BSFIs to implement automated and real-time fraud monitoring systems to detect and block fraudulent transactions.
Apart from the initiatives of key government agencies, there are also opportunities in terms of policy space. During the 18th Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives filed bills that regulate the use of online bank accounts and e-wallets through House Bill No. 10689 and Senate Bill No. 2380.
The initiatives show the commitment of various agencies in the fight against scams. In order to consolidate these efforts, we need political will. The new administration can reinforce interagency cooperation and prioritize these initiatives by including the aforementioned bills in its legislative priorities. This will give impetus to the next Congress to expedite the passage of the bills.
Since we are celebrating the National Information and Communications Technology Month this June, it would be an opportune time to highlight the things we need to do to sustain the country’s digitalization efforts. To do this, we must nip scams in the bud so that we can create a safe digital ecosystem that will improve the lives of Filipinos and protect them from cyber threats. At the Bank of the Philippine Islands, we always remind our clients that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. What better way to live up to this responsibility than a whole-of-nation approach to cybercrime?
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Noel A. Santiago is chief digital officer of the Bank of the Philippine Islands. He aims to raise awareness on key issues surrounding data privacy and cybersecurity.
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