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Cybercriminals taking advantage of pandemic worries, long holidays
In an online forum organized by BusinessWorld, Mel Georgie Racela, executive director of the AMLC Secretariat, said that 49 percent of the total suspicious transaction reports (STRs) worth P2.7 billion filed by covered persons including banks and money service businesses between March and August last year were fraud-related such as skimming, phishing, unauthorized transactions and other violations of the Electronic Commerce Act.
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Cybercriminals taking advantage of pandemic worries, long holidays

Lawrence Agcaoili (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Online fraudsters are taking advantage of the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic as well as long holidays including the upcoming Holy Week, according to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and cybersecurity firm Kasperky Lab.

In an online forum organized by BusinessWorld, Mel Georgie Racela, executive director of the AMLC Secretariat, said that 49 percent of the total suspicious transaction reports (STRs) worth P2.7 billion filed by covered persons including banks and money service businesses between March and August last year were fraud-related such as skimming, phishing, unauthorized transactions and other violations of the Electronic Commerce Act.

Racela said nine percent of the STRs worth P406.9 million involved money mules or pass-through accounts, while six percent worth P1.4 billion involved swindling and various scams.

“Without a doubt, this global health crisis has presented an opportunity for money launderers and other criminals,” Racela said.

From 2017 to 2020, Racela said fraud-related STRs soared by 346 percent, while reports on illegal e-money related transactions skyrocketed by 988 percent.

On the other hand, cash and check-related STRs grew only by 47 percent.

“Clearly, criminals have been leveraging on technology, the ease of online fund transfer, not to mention the accelerated adoption of digital processes by many institutions brought about by the pandemic may have altered the flow of funds from cash to digital transactions,” Racela said.

For his part, Kaspersky general manager for Southeast Asia Yeo Siang Tiong said the uptick in cybercriminal activities has been noted amid the global health crisis as 10,765 pandemic-related websites were detected in the Philippines alone.

Tiong said another 3,722 pandemic- related websites were already detected in the first two months of the year alone.

“This shows that the criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic to strike,” Tiong said.

Tiong also said these websites are sent through social media accounts such as Facebook, Viber, and other to bait potential victims to clink links disguised as related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tiong cautioned that cybercriminals also tend to take advantage of long holidays.

“The reality is cybercriminals see no boundaries, they don’t observe national holidays. That is exactly the same thing that we see when it comes to what happens during holidays,’’ Tiong said.

This means that cybercriminals would continue to work heavily particularly in the Philippines, particularly during the annual Holy Week.

Racela stressed the importance of education, communication, collaboration and investment to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

“Criminals continued to upgrade themselves, both materially, technically and financially. We also need to invest in technology. By combining education, communication, collaboration, and investment, I think we should be able to cope up with the criminals,” Racela said.

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