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Opinion

Busting credit card fraud rings

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Credit card scams could happen to you, especially as the world becomes an increasingly cashless global village.

As the use of digital banking apps, mobile wallets and credit cards becomes more rampant, scammers and fraudsters have also been more active and hawkish. And sophisticated.

How do I know this? It nearly happened to me. The voice on the other end of the line sounded like a trained call center agent, with the usual monotonous and seemingly scripted spiel that would drown the potential victim with a barrage of information to make it confusing.

Says the caller who claimed to be part of the credit card company’s anti-fraud unit, they are flagging suspicious transactions detected in my card. These include an unusual purchase of a mobile phone and some online games.

Mr. Scammer went on to ask if I made such purchases and I said no. He then asked if I was in possession of my credit card. They said they needed to immediately suspend it and wanted to make sure it was in my possession – which at that point already sounded odd to me.

He then asked me to confirm the credit card details so they could suspend the card immediately. I argued that was not possible and there was no way I was going to give my card details. I said they could just suspend my card if they deemed it necessary.

Almost on cue, the caller hung up.

I checked my card transactions and there were no unauthorized purchases. My card was safe, at least for now.

My takeaways. These scammers have become more sophisticated with their methods. They mimic the banks’ and credit card companies’ processes. They sound very much like call center agents.

I imagine them doing random calls the whole day looking for an unwitting victim who would cluelessly give in.

There’s a special place in hell for these scammers. These are the people who enrich themselves at the expense of others. They would spend, invest and hire individuals to perpetuate what now seems like organized credit card fraud rings.

I know I shouldn’t have picked up a cold call but an emergency situation years ago was averted because I picked up a cold call. But from now on, I shouldn’t answer these calls anymore. I’ve learned my lesson.

I share this story with the hope that others may also be alert and avoid such attempts.

Data privacy

I will never know where or how they got my number. There could be a number of ways. I renewed a government ID months ago and just before the Easter break, I crossed immigration, which means I gave my details to the government’s eTravel system which, by the way, I wrote about extensively in recent columns.

A reader responded and raised the question: can the DICT guarantee that their eTravel system won’t be hacked? Can they be sure they won’t be compromising passengers’ sensitive information?

I don’t have the answers but judging from the recent hacks victimizing the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Science and Technology, the public can’t rest easy.

I talked to an undersecretary of a government agency recently who revealed that every day they get millions of hack attempts which they have so far successfully thwarted. Some hacks are done with the help of artificial intelligence.

It’s a scary and dangerous world we’re finding ourselves in and we must all be vigilant.

Going after the ringleaders

Our authorities must step up efforts to investigate, bust and prosecute these fraudsters. To be fair, the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation have had success stories in prosecuting perpetrators of such crimes but authorities must also go after the ringleaders of these groups.

I suspect some of these scammers are so organized and well-funded by syndicates.

In 2013, the US Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, said in a statement that federal agents in four states arrested 13 people “for allegedly creating thousands of phony identities to steal at least $200 million in one of the largest credit card fraud schemes ever charged by the Department of Justice.”

US Attorney Paul J. Fishman described the scam as “a sprawling criminal enterprise that stretched across dozens of states and numerous countries.”

The defendants fabricated identities to obtain credit cards and doctored credit reports to pump up the spending and borrowing power associated with the cards. They would then borrow or spend as much as they could based on their fraudulently obtained credit history and not repay the debts, looting businesses and financial institutions of more than $200 million in confirmed losses.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said early this year that credit card fraud is the most common cyber crime in the country, at least in 2022. As such, the BSP is pushing for a bill that seeks to deter digital crimes.

It’s a wild, wild west out there with these sophisticated fraudsters consistently preying on innocent credit card users.

As I said, there’s a special place in hell for these scammers. Our authorities must work double time to prosecute these unscrupulous individuals so they already get a taste of hell for their crimes before they even face the devil himself.

*      *      *

Email: [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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