News Commentary

The new life skill of being wise online

Kit Belmonte - Philstar.com
The new life skill of being wise online
Online shopping

Even before COVID-19 forced us to learn to do many things within the confines of our homes, technology has long promised to change the way we work, study and live. When the pandemic-driven lockdowns gave us no choice but to stay indoors, that change was hastened. 

For consumers, the emergence of technological innovations such as e-marketplaces, e-commerce and other online platforms has paved the way for an easier and more convenient experience. Paying bills is now possible in just a few clicks, and shopping for clothes, food and other necessities has become more accessible with just a gadget and the internet. 

But like all other things, there is a dark, if not sinister, side to all this convenience and efficiency. 

Last year, the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the Philippine National Police documented 19,884 cases of cybercrime, with online scams making up more than half the number of cases. Online scams could take the form of computer-related identity theft, online libel, ATM/credit card fraud, online threats, data interference, photo and video voyeurism, unjust vexation and computer-related fraud. 

And then, in the first quarter of this year, the number of cybercrime cases increased by 21.84%, with 4,469 cybercrimes were recorded from January to March 2024 from the 3,668 cases during the same period in 2023. 

According to the PNP-ACG, primary crimes contributing to the increase were online selling scams with 990 cases, debit and credit card fraud with 309 cases, and investment scams with 319 cases. ACG saw a significant trend wherein social media accounts are breached and used for financial gain. In the month of February 2024 alone, the PNP recorded 89 cases of identity theft case.

Among 11 countries surveyed in the 2023 Asia Scam Report, the Philippines has the highest rate of online scams. The most common among these were shopping scams, identity theft, investment frauds, government/bank frauds, job scams, lottery scams, scams involving family or relatives, bill payment scams and charity scams, according to the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center.

Imagine how much higher the actual number can be if we consider the cases that have not been reported -- just because the victims did not know where to go. 

Indeed, the growing trend of online activities has heightened risks of scams, fraud and other deceitful activities. As many of these online activities become second nature to us, they have also become riskier.

There are malicious actors, hiding behind and emboldened by anonymity, who exploit people’s carelessness, ignorance, fear, greed and even libido to achieve their own aims in this technology-powered world.

In response to these risks and threats, the government has put in place several pieces of legislation to protect citizens. These laws could mitigate the risks and remind consumers of their rights. 

For example, Republic Act No. 7394, also known as the Consumer Act of the Philippines lays out our basic rights as consumers. These include our right to be informed, right to choose and right to redress, among others.

Under the law, consumers are protected from deceptive, unfair and unconscionable sales acts or practices, particularly those occurring in various digital platforms such as online banking that involve financial theft. It also emphasizes our right to accurate information. It means that it is our right to receive complete and accurate information about a service or product, for instance, we are purchasing. Any forms of misrepresentation can be a basis for complaints and an appropriate remedy. 

Meanwhile, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 criminalizes and prosecutes fraud, identity theft and cybersquatting. 

And then, to further attain a safe e-commerce environment in the country and strengthen existing online transaction mechanisms, the Electronic Commerce Bureau (ECB) under the DTI will implement the Internet Transactions Act of 2023 not only to protect consumer rights but also to develop consumer education and information programs. The bureau will also file appropriate cases against those who violate the law.

These laws notwithstanding, the risks remain. They do not guarantee a world free of scammers, who become more innovative every day by finding newer and more clever ways of taking advantage of others, especially those who are not careful or not aware of the ways they could be defrauded. 

Global Anti-Scam Alliance (GASA) and Gogolook found that Filipinos often become victims of online scams due to a tendency to respond too quickly. By nature, we could also be trusting especially of things that look/ sound sophisticated or professional. Thus, clearly, there is a need to be critical and discerning when it comes to online transactions. 

This is what provided the impetus for our Be Wais campaign, a partnership between our organization, CitizenWatch Philippines, Bayan Academy, Meta, along with some other friends from the government, the private sector and civil society.

We seek to cultivate a responsible community and a well-informed society that is vigilant of online scammers and fraudsters. Our campaign is a collaborative effort involving the government, private sector, and civil society. 

We believe that ultimately, our own personal protection is our personal responsibility. Thus, we want to help as many Filipino consumers as possible so they do not lose their hard-earned money, privacy and even identity to scammers. 

We emphasize, for instance, that before buying anything, buyers should visit the seller’s profile, assess their recent activities, and promptly conduct a search of the business or seller’s name to ascertain that they are not engaging in the misrepresentation of a legitimate business entity or individual.

Make sure to carefully check reviews and complaints about the business on different platforms to verify the authenticity of their products and services, especially if the offer seems too good to be true.

And then, to avoid financial scams, never share sensitive information like OTP (One Tiem Password), passwords, account or card numbers and CVV (Card Verification Value) number with anyone.

As online consumers these are new transaction skills we must imbibe to protect ourselves. Let us Be Wais – be wise, indeed, and let the benefits of an online economy drive our progress and growth while staying clear of its risks and pitfalls. This is a life skill everyone must possess to thrive in a digital world.


Kit Belmonte is a co-convenor at CitizenWatch Philippines.

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