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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Fighting scammers

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“Here’s a bill that truly deserves our attention.”


Last week, Valenzuela Congressman Wes Gatchalian delivered a privilege speech regarding a bill he has co-sponsored – House Bill 5793, which deals with SIM Card registration.

While this may at first seem to be adding another burden to us who have already been over-saddled with documentary requirements, this in fact could save us from future scam attacks. Paired with the National ID or the Philippine Identification System, we actually could have an almost fool-proof shield against scammers.

Citing data, Gatchalian says the Philippines has an estimated 152.4 million mobile subscribers. Of all these mobile subscribers, only three percent are registered postpaid users. This means that 97 percent or over 147 million mobile subscribers in the country are unregistered prepaid numbers. Of these numbers, Globe has the greatest number of subscribers with a reported 76.6 million users having a market share of around 50 percent, while Smart has the second largest market share with 72.9 million users representing 48 percent of the total number of mobile users.

Despite this huge volume, it is rather unfortunate, Gatchalian says, the Philippines is among the remaining 20 percent of countries in the world without mandatory SIM card registration. As of 2021, 155 countries already have SIM registration mandates and over half these countries likewise have data privacy protection frameworks in place.

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According to the lawmaker, the country’s lack of a law requiring SIM registration creates opportunities for scammers to proliferate in the country – and his brother is only one of the millions of Filipinos who have fallen victim to these unscrupulous individuals. As the DICT reports, 1 out of 5 people in the country or about 20 percent of the Filipinos have already fallen victim to text scams.

Gatchalian surely knows what he’s talking about. His brother, Senator Win, has fallen victim to a hacker who was able to use his credit card to buy one million pesos worth of alcoholic drinks. That hacker, the lawmaker noted, was able to successfully use the credit card of his brother by changing the registered number and linking it to an untraceable prepaid SIM card to send the one- time password designed to protect the credit card.

Additionally, these text scams, the solon adds, are slowly evolving into more complex crimes such as identity theft, phishing, the spreading of false information, death threats, bomb scares, libel, and even sexual offenders have turned to using prepaid SIM cards to satisfy their lascivious desires.

For example, in September 2016, an improvised explosive device  was allegedly set off via a mobile phone in a night market in Davao City.

In January 27, 2019, two bombs exploded at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu with a mobile phone suspected to have been used as a triggering device.

And the list for potential crimes that can be committed with a prepaid SIM card goes on.

However, these can easily be suppressed with the help of SIM card registration as supported by our Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation.

By requiring registration, responsible ownership and accountability in the use of SIM cards will be put in place. This can also help law enforcement agencies in tracking down criminal perpetrators who use mobile phones to commit heinous crimes such as kidnapping and bombing, among others.

With the SIM Card Registration, Gatchalian says public safety and public welfare are protected.

“Ultimately, the goal of this bill is to deter the commission of cellular phone-aided crimes, and ensure consumer protection,” he averred.

Of course, there are oppositors to the proposed measure citing concerns regarding the right to privacy of mobile phone users. The main argument of the opposition against the proposed legislation centers around the potential risk of transgressions against one’s Constitutional right to privacy.

Gatchalian however explains that while this issue has been repeatedly raised, it has already been resolved by Republic Act No. 10173 otherwise known as the Data Privacy Act.

“Moreover, the bill explicitly states that any disclosure of information should be in accordance with the Data Privacy Act or upon a duly issued subpoena or order of a court upon a finding of probable cause that a particular number was used in the commission of a crime,” the solon stressed.

Additionally, Gatchalian says that the data required for National ID registration under Republic Act No. 11055 enacted on July 24, 2017, are more than the details required for SIM card registration. Nonetheless, despite having more details required, the PhilSys Act was passed, and the same safeguards could also be applied under the proposed bill.

Efforts to enact the mandatory SIM Card Registration had been ongoing in the House of Representatives since the 13th Congress. The same measure, Gatchalian says, had been filed in the 17th Congress which was approved by the House of Representatives on its third and final reading.

However, while it was transmitted to the Senate, it did not make it past the Committee of Senator Grace Poe. Actually, the lady senator had become notorious for initiating probes and legislative hearings but never ever coming up with any closure or recommendations. Remember her probe on Mamasapano?

Again, Congress may be pressed for time to pass this measure as we only have a few months before the 18thCongress folds. But if the lawmakers are up to it, they can still pass the bill in both Chambers, resolve differing provisions in the bicam, approve the final version and submit it to the President and have it enacted into law.

That is if they are really serious in fighting off these scammers.

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