Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Global syndicate behind text scam surge, says NPC

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) has revealed that, based on its initial investigations, the recent smishing activities are being run by a global crime syndicate and not by a group that has gained unauthorized access to contact tracing forms.

“If our initial findings prove true that personal data is being exploited by criminals abroad, then this also becomes a matter of national security, which should compel government, the private sector, and advocate groups to work hand in hand and take more urgent and concrete action to safeguard,” NPC chair Raymund E. Liboro said in a statement.

Liboro also said his agency has summoned the data protection officers of Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, Dito Telecommunity, Lazada, Shopee, and several banks to report on their spam prevention measures and further steps to combat the recent surge of scam texts that have been soliciting and misusing personal information.

“We have summoned them to detail their current and future measures to combat smishing. Ultimately, we want to secure their commitment and focus in fighting these fraudulent practices so we can best strategize how to block these messages and protect our data subjects,” he said.

In meeting with industry players, the NPC said it aims to be kept abreast with the scam trends and discuss potential coordination in exchanging crucial information to prevent the unlawful collection and misuse of personal data.

“We hope to find areas where the NPC and these industry players can establish a more proactive approach in fighting smishing and other scams, moving forward,” Liboro added.

Liboro reminded data subjects anew to remain vigilant and not open suspicious links. The privacy official also told data subjects to always scrutinize the messages they receive and not easily believe its lofty promises of easy, passive income opportunities and high-paying jobs.

“If [the text message] from an unknown number and with an offer that is too good to be true, it is most probably not true and is a scam,” Liboro said.

Liboro said the NPC will continue to monitor the situation and encouraged victims to immediately file a report against the malicious senders, especially if they think their personal data has been compromised.

Local telcos Globe Telecom and Smart Communications have both issued advisories against the unsolicited text messages sent to mobile phone subscribers.

Smart, for its part, said that from October 21 to November 20, it has already blocked an average of 400 to 500 mobile numbers daily that have been found to be related to SMS hoax and spam, and some 40 domains and IP addresses used by online scammers.

Smart reminded mobile users to not entertain questions or surveys from unknown senders, and to never provide their personal information to strangers. They may also use their SMS app’s built-in blocking feature, the company said.

Additionally, Smart said it has also implemented blocking access to domains or website addresses and specific IP addresses evidently found to be related to these fraudulent schemes.

“We protect our customers and block these suspicious accounts on several layers. We block fraudulent accounts based on mobile numbers associated with fraud. But since mobile numbers may be easily replaced, we also block on the domain and IP address levels, as soon as we have evidence that a specific domain is used as a platform by scammers,” according to PLDT and Smart chief information and security officer Angel T. Redoble.

“In fact, we have identified and blocked about 40 domains and IP addresses involved in this scam, which leads us to believe that this is a huge and sophisticated scam by an organized global syndicate. We urge our customers to be very paranoid and to never share sensitive information especially with strangers no matter how enticing the offer may sound,” added Redoble.

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