‘12 scams of Christmas’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

This holiday season, beware of falling victim to what have become notoriously called as “12 scams of Christmas.” Anti-cybercrime advocacy group ScamWatch Pilipinas, headed by Jocel de Guzman issued this advisory in the wake of rising incidents of online scams and fraudulent activities. De Guzman warned the public about the rampant and increasing attempts by scammers taking advantage of the Christmas season when people are in holiday mood and spirit of being generous and certainly awash with money.

To get ahead of scam hubs and individuals engaged in such nefarious online frauds, a multi-agency campaign dubbed HolidayWatchPh was launched last Tuesday. The multi-agency campaign is spearheaded by the Department of Information and Technology (DICT), along with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Cybercrime Investigating Center (CCIC) and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) and ScamWatch Pilipinas as the private sector partner.

The same public warning was echoed by Assistant Secretary Atty. Amanda Nograles who heads the Consumer Protection Group of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI); Atty. Philip Sawali, Director of the Fair Trade Enforcement of the same agency; and CICC Director Rojun Hosillos. De Guzman along with Nograles, Sawali and Hosillos issued the joint call at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday.

These government agencies have joined forces in a bid to step up the cyber awareness and to educate the public on the latest modus operandi of online fraudsters and scammers, especially during this holiday season.

According to De Guzman, the HolidayWatchPh complements the National Cyber Crime Hub run by the same inter-agency body going after and busting organized cyber crimes syndicates with the help of law enforcement arms of the government. De Guzman explained the National Cyber Crime Hub based at the BGC in Taguig City operates Hotline 1-3-2-6 where the public can directly report and victims can complain against cyber scam and other digital crimes.

Led by the DICT, it is run jointly by representatives from the Commission on Information and Communications (CICT); the NTC; and the NPC.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, De Guzman alerted the public to the most common modus operandi of online scammers and hackers. Calling these as the “12 Scams of Christmas,” these are, as follow:

1. Fake shipping and delivery notifications

2. Fake online charity solicitations

3. Fake shopping websites

4. Fake online sellers

5. Bogus “free trial” on goods and services

6. Electronic “Christmas gift card” but are fake.

7. Tech support claims supposedly made by banks but are actually click baits.

8. “Crypto” investment offers but are non-existing or non-registered entities.

9. Fake relative/friend scams

10. “Love” or dating scams

11.  Foreign exchange investment offers

12.  Fake “loan” offers

Just yesterday, I received this text message in my mobile phone showing the sender’s name: [email protected] even giving specific instructions on how to get one’s supposed package sent through the Philippine Postal Corp. Since it’s the Christmas season, obviously this scammer tried to lure me to click the link to the delivery notice.

“PHLPOST - The package has arrived at the warehouse and cannot be delivered due to incomplete address information. Please confirm your address at the link.

https://ph-posts.info/ph (reply 1 to activate the link or copy the link to your Safari browser and open it)

The PHLPOST team wishes you a great day!”

Naturally, the PHLPost immediately issued a public advisory that this is a “click bait” of scammers about bogus package delivery. This is a form of smishing or an illegal way to acquire sensitive data such as personal and financial information by pretending to be a legitimate company or individual via SMS or text. Or other scammers use phishing online or via email messages. Or via vhishing or by voice calls. And lately even via QR codes or quishing.

More than the “low literacy” on digital knowledge that exposes many people to become victims of cyber crimes, De Guzman pointed out the crying need for “cyber hygiene.” This is the practice of constantly changing the passwords and security codes to protect one’s self from cyber criminals.

De Guzman advised the public, if you receive this kind of “fake” delivery notification, please click instead the button for “Report Junk” that will not only delete the message but will also allow the telco provider of your mobile phone to block it. According to De Guzman, telcos like Smart and Globe have in their respective built-in systems that capture these “Report Junk” sent back to them and totally take them out.

Ironically, these text messages continue to proliferate more than four months after supposedly the telcos have already complied with the law that mandated the registration of subscriber identity module (SIMs) used in mobile phones, tablets and other digital devices. This is Republic Act (RA) 11934, or the SIM Registration Law that specifically target illegal use of SIM for criminal activities.

Hossilos revealed at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay that they discovered selling personal information to register for SIM has become a source of livelihood to many income-strapped individuals. For P500 each, Hossilos cited, these SIMs acquired from these individuals supply the cyber syndicates operating “scam hubs” here in our country with the basic tool they need to ply their illegal trade. Hosillos bared the CICC learned this from the raids of a number of illegal POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) where these bulks of SIMs were recovered and seized.

From the end of the DTI, Nograles noted with alarm that the estimated value of as much as P1 billion a year are generated out of these scams. Nograles disclosed complaints received by the DTI also victimize “legitimate online marketplaces.” It grew big after the COVID-19 pandemic ushered online and other internet-based commercial transactions.

From “12 scams of Christmas,” surely this would further evolve into more sophisticated but other much sinister cyber frauds.

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