Scam sites duping Pinoys continue to be promoted on Google, Facebook

Despite the public being constantly warned over the years, many hapless Filipinos continue to be duped by fake and phishing websites and other online scams that proliferate in the Internet.

Often, it is hard to identify these kinds of sites because they mimic and closely resemble the official and legitimate websites. Thus, they are often overlooked by ordinary citizens or even discerning individuals. 

Moreso now that scammers have become more innovative. Scams can be in the form of Google Ads, mobile messages, online games, Facebook (FB) or Instagram posts that lead to fraudulent pages requesting for confidential information, such as birthday, bank account, or credit card details.

Basically, these scams try to elicit personal information to steal money. This growing trend in the prominence of phishing websites has been observed by Google since 2015 though. 

The fake One Health Pass website

One Health Pass

In June this year, Luina Jamoralin fell victim to a scam related to the One Health Pass (OHP), the online form that overseas Filipinos need to fill out before they can enter the Philippines.

Jamoralin and her two kids were excited to come back to the Philippines and spend time with her side of the family after their original travel plan was stalled for nearly two years due to the Covid pandemic.

She was informed by her travel agency that they need to fill up the OHP as required to fly out of Australia and be admitted into the Philippines.

As such, Jamoralin searched on Google for the OHP and naturally clicked the top website that appeared on the first page. She paid a total of $AUS 116 through her credit card after filling up the form for two persons.

Little did she know that it was not the official site authorized by the DOH.

Hours before their departure, she has not yet received any receipt nor the needed OHP reference number or certificate. When a fellow Filipina told her that the OHP is for free, it was then when she realized that she might have been scammed.

Jamoralin is only one of the many victims of this fraudulent OHP website that can be found on Google.

There could be many possible victims like Jamoralin, including returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and balikbayans who are eager to go back home and visit their families.

The DOH, as well as the Embassy of the Philippines in Ottawa, Canada, have issued an advisory warning the public from use of this fake OHP website collecting fees from travelers.

As of this writing, the said bogus OHP website remains searchable on Google and can continue to victimized Filipinos and even foreign visitors.

The Philippine government, however, has announced that it will replace the One Health Pass with the E-Arrival Card this November.

Bank, food, travel scams

Many countries now opened its borders to tourists and people are itching to go out and travel because of lockdown fatigue and restrictions due to the pandemic.

In the United States, for instance, ticket sales for domestic flights in February this year exceeded those for the same month in 2019, according to an analysis by the Adobe Digital Economy Index.

Even in mid-2020, a survey by the Department of Tourism revealed that 48 percent of Filipinos expect to travel domestically in the next six months according to the Philippine Travel Survey Report released by the agency in June of that year.

Fake PAL free ticket offering

Therefore, people would grab any chance for a free ticket or a travel gift. Such is the case of the fake Philippine Airlines (PAL) Anniversary Gift promo circulating online.

The ad is linked to a bogus website that requests people to answer a short survey in exchange for a free PAL ticket.

Bogus Google ads that lead to a fake Landbank website

Similarly, an ad recently appeared on Google that led to a fake Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) website.

Given that Landbank is the Philippine government’s depository bank where government agencies deposit employee salaries and benefits, this poses danger and real threat, particularly to ordinary employees who rely on their meager income.

The wife of an employee of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) in the Eastern Visayas sent money amounting to P12,000 through the fake Landbank website.

She was informed that Landbank has no control over the bogus website and was advised to use only iAccess, Landbank’s official digital platform, after she raised her concern with the bank.

Similarly, an instructor at the Technological University of the Philippines Taguig Campus allegedly lost her money after clicking the fake Landbank website.

Even the country’s science department was not spared from online scammers. A fake account of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) exists on Facebook promoting and selling Super Meal, which contains a mix of “healthy nuts.”

The FNRI is the country’s lead agency in food and nutrition research and development. It warned the public that it does not promote products not developed by FNRI researchers and clarified that said Facebook page is not the official FNRI account.

How safe is Google?

A study conducted by Incopro, a British technology company, revealed that 6 out of 10 first-page results on Google were linked to suspicious websites when researchers tried to look for a particular pharmaceutical product.

Unfortunately, people tend to click the top results generated by the giant search engine. In 2020 alone, an average of 46,000 new phising websites were detected every week by Google, according to its 2020 Transparency Report.

While Google has a process for reporting malicious websites, it has no way of detecting at the onset once a malicious or a phishing page is uploaded.

Unless a victim brings out the scam to attention, unreported fake websites will continue to exist and deceive people. The affected party can only request Google to take down a fake website like in the case of Landbank.

Nonetheless, there is no guarantee that another fake website will no longer appear. It is just a matter of time before scammers can create a replacement to trick consumers again.

As such, it seems like a vicious cycle — a fake website is detected, it will be taken down, and another fake site will (re)appear.

There are recommended ways to avoid falling into this scammer’s trap. Regardless of these recommendations, however, the ultimate decision depends on the individual.

Therefore, it pays to become more vigilant given this situation. More importantly, never share account details and confidential information, particularly financial and banking information.

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