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Gov’t, private sector, advocacy groups vs. scams

by Kiko Cueto

Stepping up the fight against online fraud and scams, several government agencies have teamed up with the private sector and advocacy groups for an education campaign focused on bolstering consumer protection online. 

The “Be Wais” Civic Education Campaign against Fraud and Scams aims to increase awareness among the public about the various types of scams, empowering them to spot and avoid the prevalent fraudulent activities online.

The months-long campaign kicked off at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall, spearheaded by advocacy groups Bayan Academy and Citizen Watch Philippines. 

Representatives from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines graced the event, along with private sector partners Meta and SM Supermalls.

The group released the first of a series of educational videos illustrating the deceptive tactics of various scams, such as online shopping scams, phishing or bank scams, job scams, love scams, investment scams, and brand impersonation scams. These videos will also be shared on the social media platforms of the government agencies, the private sector and advocacy partners. 

The key message is to ‘Be wise and skeptical (Be wais at magduda)’ when confronted with the scammers’ various modus operandi. 

Cybercrime cases on the rise

In 2023, the Philippine National Police recorded over 19,000 cybercrime incidents, marking an almost 70% increase from the previous year. The majority of these cases, approximately 14,000 incidents, were related to online scams. 

Recent government data indicates a 20% rise in cybercrime cases during the first quarter of the year compared to the last quarter of 2023. 

Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla stated that 90% of all crimes these days have cybercrime content. 

 “We no longer see robbers entering banks with guns. Today’s criminals utilize advanced digital technologies, including smartphones and computers, to orchestrate theft. In response, we have been actively bolstering our anti-cybercrime measures and continuously updating our strategies to stay ahead of these threats,” Remulla explained.

Similarly, the SEC has observed a rapid increase in the number of investment scams perpetrated online since the start of the pandemic.

“This is why we are ramping up our financial literacy drive to empower them to be wiser in their investment decisions, as well as in the selection of various financial products and services, and intensifying our enforcement efforts to make sure scammers are put behind bars,” SEC Chairperson Emilio B. Aquino said.

According to the DMW, overseas Filipino workers with their hard-earned income and resources are often targets of investment scams, consumer fraud, and worse, illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

“Empowerment is the cornerstone of our vision. With collaborative initiatives from our partner agencies and concerned stakeholders, we continue to support OFWs and their families in managing their hard-earned money and in helping them make wise financial decisions, as well as in maximizing their earning potential from the livelihood support from our reintegration services,” DMW Secretary Hans Cacdac said.  

Filipinos falling prey to online shopping scams

The Philippines topped the list for online shopping scam rates in the 2023 Asia Scam Report, a survey conducted by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance in partnership with the Taiwan-based tech security company Gogolook.

With the rampant spread of counterfeit and substandard items online, DTI Secretary Fred Pascual urged consumers to be more discerning and meticulous when buying products online.

“We want to remind our consumers to remember a few key things when purchasing online: First, ensure that the online seller is legitimate by checking if they have a business address, email, and contact number. Second, be cautious with the prices online – they might not be the same as the actual item. A huge price difference can serve as a warning to thoroughly check the item. Lastly, look up the business’s trade name on the DTI website to avoid dealing with businesses that are not legitimate or registered properly,” the DTI chief emphasized.

In his remarks, USAID Philippines’ Deputy Director of Economic Development and Governance Eric Florimon Reed stressed the importance of consumer trust in building a resilient digital economy. 

“For a digital economy to flourish and be sustainable, it is important that consumers trust the integrity and fairness of digital marketplaces. In turn, these marketplaces need to prioritize and promote transparent and ethical practices that engender such trust, allowing consumers to confidently engage and transact online,” Reed said.

Multisector collaboration 

Atty. Kit Belmonte, co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines and former congressman, stressed the need for all sectors of society to come together to combat online fraud and scams.

“The 2023 Asia Scam Report ranked the Philippines first in Southeast and East Asia with an online scam rate of 35.9%. Cybercrime in all its forms is indeed a serious problem that requires our whole society working together to expose and counteract,” Belmonte said.

“While we push government and online platforms to strengthen citizens’ cyber-protection, we must also arm ourselves with the know-how to ensure that these fraudsters, scammers and thieves do not succeed,” he added.

Francisco Enrique “Jay” M. Bernardo III, Chairman and President of Bayan Family of Foundations, said empowering people — consumers and entrepreneurs alike — through education and awareness-raising is one way to address the issue of online fraud and scams.

“Scammers get more and more creative. We need to be familiar with their dirty tricks so we can spot and prevent ourselves from getting scammed. When something is too go19od to be true, take a moment. Be doubtful. Pause before reacting, buying, or sending money online. No matter the style or type of scam, it helps to Be WAIS at MagDUDA,” Bernardo said.

The DICT is boosting its cybersecurity information campaign as part of the National Cybersecurity Plan 2024-2028. 

“Cybercriminals are very adept in using social engineering to steal passwords, coax people into revealing their e-wallet accounts, and so on. We’re doing more information campaigns to make the public aware of the risks involved,” DICT Secretary Ivan John Uy said.

Emphasizing digital safety, SM Supermalls said it joined the Be Wais campaign to help protect Filipinos online. 

“SM’s partnership with Meta on Be WAIS is one of our efforts to create a digital space as secure as our physical malls, and we are proud to amplify the Be WAIS message to protect Filipinos from these online dangers,” said SM Supermalls’ President Steven Tan.

Meta, for its part, highlighted its long-term commitment to fighting scams worldwide. 

“The issue of fraud and scams presents a cross-platform, industry-wide challenge, and a highly-adversarial space, due to its financially-motivated bad actors. Bad actors continuously evolve their tactics, operating across multiple countries, platforms and banks, and moving offline. They leverage social engineering to dupe targets into deceiving their banks to facilitate the transfer of money,” said Clare Amador, Director of Public Policy for Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar at Meta.

“No single institution or industry can tackle this problem alone – a whole-of-society approach, including the tech sector, banks, government, civil society and others, is essential. As such, we are honored to maintain our close collaboration with government entities, local partners, and non-governmental organizations to raise awareness and equip Filipinos with the necessary knowledge and resources to stay safe online,” Amador said. 

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