EDITORIAL — Love scammers

With the approach of the day of hearts, government agencies led by the Philippine National Police, the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center are warning the public against love scams. In fact the love scams have been around for a long time now, not just around Valentine’s Day but all year round, with the perpetrators protected by the anonymity of cyberspace. With artificial intelligence further facilitating online scams, cybercops can barely keep up with the fraudsters.

The government has launched a citizens’ arm, privately funded ScamWatch Pilipinas, to educate the public about online fraud and ways to avoid becoming a victim. ScamWatch has listed at least eight red flags to spot love scammers. Their classifications indicate the tactic employed for enticing victims: Sad Boy / Sad Girl, which uses a sob story to borrow money; The Investor, usually featuring a foreigner inviting a potential victim to invest in cryptocurrency; The Seducer, The Serviceman, The Escort, The Blackmailer, The Slow Burn and The Predator.

ScamWatch suggests four “Ms” to avoid falling victim to love scams: Magduda, Mang-snob, Magdamot and Magsumbong. Maintain a healthy amount of doubt and keep a safe distance in online interactions, hold on to your money, and report scams through hotline 1326. For love scams in particular, ScamWatch suggests a fourth “M” – Magsikap – or strive to conduct due diligence or background check on persons met online. If in-person meeting is not possible, identity verification can be done through various websites or through a video call, although even such types of vetting can now be manipulated through deepfake technology.

Cyberspace has become a scammers’ paradise, especially in countries such as the Philippines with limited capability to detect and prevent fraud and catch the perpetrators. If a scam is reported through hotline 1326, can the government give a satisfactory response? While educating the public about cyber fraud, government agencies must also ramp up their capability to trace love scammers and bring them to justice. Love scams have boomed because the perpetrators can get away with their crime.

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