Fight cybercrime with tech education
Criticisms on the supposed failure of the SIM (subscriber identity module) card registration law to put a stop to cybercrime are rather harsh. The fact is that the number of text scams has declined since it finally took effect in July. As Secretary Ivan Uy of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) noted in a recent briefing in Malacañang: “I averaged about six or seven text message scams per day. Today, I probably get one in two or three days. So it is still there, but it is less.”
Monitoring by the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) also supports this. From January to August this year, it investigated 16,297 cases of various cybercrime cases. However, PNP-ACG director Brig. Gen. Sidney Hernia pointed out that online scams have become the most prevalent type of cybercrime, reflecting the changing landscape of digital threats. Aside from online scams, the agency identified illegal access, computer-related identity theft, ATM and credit card fraud, threats, data interference, anti-photo and video voyeurism, and computer-related scams as also among the prevalent types of cybercrimes. A recent example of a cybercrime would be the ransomware attack on the PhilHealth website.
In a presentation last week in the Senate, Hernia disclosed that perpetrators commonly use popular social media platforms; payment, messaging and selling apps, and websites to carry out criminal activities. “This surge in cybercrimes is closely tied to the increased reliance on the internet for various commercial activities,” the PNP-ACG said. Data from the DICT showed that 83 percent of Filipinos use the internet. Undersecretary Jocelle Batapa-Sigue noted that the world average is only around six hours of internet use daily, but in the Philippines, “we have more than 10 hours of exposure.” The same with social media, where many studies show that Filipinos are the “most virtually social” in the world.
The focus of efforts to address cybercrimes should therefore be on the targeted victims. Just as a pond teeming with fish will attract plenty of fishers, so will a society hooked to the internet attract a large number of online scammers. And if members of that society are technologically ill-equipped—especially on how to stay secure online and in protecting their personal data—and if many still believe in double-your-money schemes and too-good-to-be-true deals, fraudsters will have a field day.
There are adequate laws against cybercriminals. On the prosecution side, the government is working on providing new equipment and technical personnel to the PNP-ACG, and the creation of cybercrime desks in all police stations to assist in investigating internet-related concerns under Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Congress is also moving to relax the bank secrecy law, which has stymied efforts at prosecuting cybercriminals. PNP-ACG’s Hernia noted that despite their strong desire and efforts to hold scammers accountable for their crimes, they are having difficulty filing cybercrime cases because of the tedious process of obtaining necessary data from banks and financial institutions, leading to victims withdrawing their complaints.
At the end of the day, the key to truly resolving cybercrimes is educating potential victims. A concerted effort among the government, financial institutions, and mobile wallet providers to conduct widespread information and awareness campaigns against online scams must be undertaken. Such efforts can be focused on what the PNP-ACG identified as fueling the recent surge: “click the link” scams, which target mobile wallets and online banking customers. “The victim doesn’t know that if he or she clicks the link, it would lead to a site for updating bank details. If he or she falls into the scheme, there is a big possibility that the scammers would get a hold of his or her bank details; hence, the money would be transferred to another account,” Hernia said. In these cases, no matter how many security measures banks install in their systems, criminals will still succeed if the bank or mobile wallet owners themselves unsuspectingly help them.
Consumers need to be suspicious whenever dealing with money matters online. Heed what parents advise their children about not talking to strangers. This will save many Filipinos from online scammers, who always find devious ways to lure gullible, and often greedy, consumers. Since Filipinos spend a lot of hours on social media, they are well advised to spend some of it reading up on a host of literature about cybercrimes, and how to prevent being victimized by one. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the DICT, and all the banks have these tips available online for free. Reading these safeguards will take only a little time away from the hours consumers spend watching videos on TikTok or browsing Facebook’s Marketplace where cybercriminals abound. And it will be truly worth it knowing that your privacy—and your money in the bank and in mobile wallets—are safe. As banks point out to their customers, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility.