Wednesday, November 29, 2023

NBI raids Chinese-operated firm in BGC for IP violations, online scam

The National Bureau of Investigation Intellectual Property Rights Division (NBI-IPRD) raided on Thursday, Aug. 17, the office of a Chinese-operated company in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig for the unauthorized use of the trade name and trademarks of a US-headquartered outdoor advertising company to perpetuate an online investment scam.

The authorities swooped down on the premises of CCO Media Philippines located on the 21st floor of High Street South Corporate Plaza Tower 2 at the corner of 26th St. and 11th Avenue in Bonifacio Global City.

CCO Media Phils. was found to have been engaging in the widespread promotion, sale, or offering of an elaborate revenue-sharing investment scheme while representing themselves to be affiliated with and clothing their products to be coming from Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc., Clear Channel Outdoor and/or Clear Channel IP, LLC (collectively, CLEAR CHANNEL USA), an American company and a market leader in the out-of-home advertising industry.

The raid was conducted by virtue on the search warrants issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court based on three offenses: Violations of Section 177.1 in relation to Sections 216 and 217 (Copyright Infringement), Section 168 in relation to Section 170 (Unfair Competition) and Section 169.1 in relation to Section 170 (False Designation of Origin; False Description or Representation) of Republic Act No. 8293, the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines.

During the raid, the NBI confiscated signages, promotional materials (banners and brochures), sundry items, merchandise (umbrellas, notebooks, and shirts), LED television, desktop and tablet computers, a mobile phone, and other paraphernalia that bear or contain CLEAR CHANNEL USA’s logos, trademarks and copyrighted materials, including an almost exact replica of CLEAR CHANNEL USA’s 2022 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report save for the last page which CCO Media Phils. doctored to indicate their contact details (in lieu of CLEAR CHANNEL USA’s).

Through concerned Filipino consumers, CLEAR CHANNEL USA discovered that its name and trademarks are being used by CCO Media Phils. without its authority. The local company also claimed to be the local branch or office of CLEAR CHANNEL USA, and has misappropriated the “Clear Channel Outdoor” name, using the corporate and business names “CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR ASIA CORP.”, “CCO Media”, and “CCO Media Philippines.”

The US-based firm discovered that CCO Media Phils. was able to register with the Securities Exchange of Commission (SEC) under the business name “CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR ASIA CORP.”

In CCO Media Phils.’ SEC Certificate of Registration issued on June 7, 2023, it is indicated that it “does not authorize investment solicitation and investment taking without a secondary license from [the SEC].”

To entice consumers to “invest”, CCO Media Phils. also posted various tutorials (on how to invest) and testimonials (on how alleged “investors” earned from the scheme) via a Facebook account (CCO Media Philippines), various Facebook groups (CCO Media and Clear Channel Outdoors), and YouTube channels (CCO Media Official, Official CCO).

It also utilized the messaging app Telegram to recruit new members and to entice existing members to invest additional funds facilitated by “investment advisors”.

The Chinese-operated firm also has a website, which contains a profile falsely claiming that CCO Media connected to CLEAR CHANNEL USA, and claiming that CLEAR CHANNEL USA is “gradually expanding to the Philippines”. CLEAR CHANNEL USA has confirmed that all of these claims are false.

CLEAR CHANNEL USA hired a local private investigation firm, IP-Manila Associates, which discovered CCO Media Phils.’ investment scam activities involved the use of CCO Media Phils. App offering investment products ranging from P300.00 to P1,000,000.00 in exchange for daily returns ranging from 2.5 percent up to 50 percent, depending on the level of investment.

“Investors” also earn direct referral bonuses for recruiting members, and commissions on referrals made by their respective recruits. Eventually, these “investors” return to their respective provinces to establish their own offices and recruit more “investors”.

During the raid, one of the investors disclosed to the authorities that he had already invested a total of P57,000, and was looking into investing more funds in view of the promised returns.

He said that upon seeing the nicely designed office of CCO Media Phils., and the various spurious “awards” displayed in the premises, he, along with others, were almost convinced of CCO Media Phils.’ legitimacy – were it not for the NBI-IPRD operatives who suddenly appeared onsite to conduct the raid.

While the raid was ongoing, a certain “Vincy” arrived to distribute the salaries of the employees, as confirmed by the CCO Media Phils. staff present. Vincy, who claims to be a Malaysian citizen, denied any knowledge of the scam and claimed that she was only working for some “bosses”.

Meanwhile, one of the CCO Media Phils. staff present during the raid, who introduced herself as “Abby,” said that they have “bosses” operating the office, all of whom they have no information about, other than that they are non-Filipino citizens. She claims to have seen these “bosses” during the early stages of CCO Media Phils.’ operations.

Just as CLEAR CHANNEL USA is preparing to file complaints against the persons behind CCO Media Phils., the local company has begun spreading false information through various channels trying to spin the raid and to dissociate itself from the BGC office that was raided.

In some posts, CCO Media Phils. claims that the unannounced raid was actually spearheaded by CLEAR CHANNEL USA in view of alleged “corrupt activities” and “unprofessional” conduct being done by CCO Media Phils. staff in BGC. In yet another version of the story being propagated by CCO Media Phils., they also claim that the raid was conducted in order to dismantle a rival scam app, “wooshopper”.

With this, the American company is determined to take action against CCO Media Phils. on the basis of violations of the Intellectual Property Code, the Securities Regulations Code, and the Revised Penal Code. The items seized during the raid will be presented in court as evidence.


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