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Public warned vs text scams

/ 05:09 AM September 03, 2015

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Many cell phone owners often receive bogus, unsolicited text messages that inform them that they won a house, car or cash, or that trick them into sending cell phone credits to strangers masquerading as relatives.

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It’s a practice that has gone on too long and has caused people stress, not to mention loss of money.

Sen. Cynthia Villar said it was time for government agencies and telecommunication firms to step up efforts to address the “rampant and uncontrollable” proliferation of text scams.

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Villar on Wednesday scolded officials for not taking enough action on the matter, pointing out that she and her own foundation had sent numerous complaints to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) but the practice still continues.

She said telecommunication firms, which earned a lot from subscribers through various fees, should protect their customers by putting out television advertisements that would teach them to avoid falling prey to text message swindlers.

With her frustration over the situation, Villar is inclined to support a bill seeking to require the registration of SIM cards to stem their use for criminal or unscrupulous activities.

“It is high time we put a semblance of control over it and stop its further proliferation. Text scams do not only inconvenience us. They also cost the recipients money and may even cause further harm, if we are not vigilant,” she said at the hearing of the Senate public services subcommittee.

The text scammers spare no one, she noted.

Her own foundation, the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (Villar Sipag), has also been used by scammers who claim that cell phone owners have won a raffle sponsored by the group and who ask them to shell out a certain amount as fees to claim their prize.

Scammers’ modus

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This is just one technique. Other techniques of the scammers include text messages that:

— Masquerade as a text from a relative abroad in which the sender would ask the recipient for cell phone credits, or “load,” to continue the conversation.

— Are disguised as an advisory from telecommunication companies informing the recipient that he or she was accidentally charged a certain amount, and issuing instructions how to reverse this. But the instructions would trick the recipient into sending cell phone credits.

— Are made to appear to be a special offer from telecommunications company that also issues instructions that eventually trick the recipient into losing cell phone credits.

— Appear to be announcements notifying the recipient of winning a raffle from a certain government agency, company or foundation.

In the last scheme, the recipient could be asked to call a number, and he or she would be asked to transfer a certain amount to get the item.

Anonymous text messages could also be used for black propaganda for the forthcoming elections, she noted.

According to Villar, there is a need for substantial action on these text scams because of the alarming increase in the number of victims year after year.

In 2013, 1,179 text scam complaints were filed in the NTC, she said. For the first half of 2014, almost 1,000 text scam complaints were filed.

Villar said many victims come from poor families, whose hopes had been buoyed by claims that they would receive a windfall in exchange for depositing a certain amount of cash.

NTC officials said that even if the agency blocked SIM card use for fraudulent transactions, it was easy for anybody to purchase another prepaid SIM card. A law that would require SIM card registration would help, the officials said.

Villar called on telecommunication firms to undertake an intensive public information campaign, preferably through television advertisements, warning people about text scams.

The NTC’s practice of putting out posters and newspaper advertisements warning about scams was not enough. “You’re making a lot of money out of us, might as well protect us,” the senator said.

So far, telecommunication firms have not done much to protect subscribers who pay a lot for the firms’ services. The firms, according to Villar, have been spending more for their various advocacies. These should include protecting their customers.

“You do a lot of CSR [corporate social responsibility projects], so why don’t you help consumers? Do you want us to fall prey to scams? You don’t care if we’re scammed?” she said.

TOPICS: Cynthia Villar, mobile phones, NTC, telecom, text scams
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