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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Lawmaker eyes Senate action on bill vs. digital financial scams

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A PARTY-LIST lawmaker has urged the Senate to speedily act on a bill seeking to impose stiff penalties against digital financial fraud.

Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan of Bicol Saro party-list group, one of principal authors of a bill on digital economy, made the call following reports about the proliferation of  fake  bank and e-wallet advisories circulated by scammers.

Yamsuan said these scams have become so prevalent that banks have resorted to sending messages to their clients through text, emails and even Viber, warning them  about these deceptive schemes.

After phishing, in which scammers use fake emails and links  to trick potential victims into revealing their personal and financial data, these fraudsters have resorted to smishing, or sending bogus text
messages, and vishing or making fraudulent calls—both with the same purpose as phishing, Yamsuan said.

He said consumers need to be protected from these fraudulent tactics through the passage of the proposed Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act (AFASA), which the House of Representatives passed last May under House Bill (HB) 7393. However, the Senate has yet to ratify its version of the measure.

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“On top of providing a shield of protection to consumers, the AFASA will also help safeguard the integrity of our financial system.  We urge the Senate to pass its version of the AFASA to  assure the public that they can continue to trust our financial system as we go forth with our inevitable shift to a digital economy,” Yamsuan noted. 

He recalled that mobile wallet providers and telecommunications companies  have been urging Congress to fast-track approval of the AFASA.

The House version provides heavy penalties against online scams perpetrated on a  large scale. Under the bill, if the online scam is committed by a syndicate (defined as a group of three or more persons); done in large scale; or using a mass mailer, such crimes are
classified as acts of economic sabotage punishable with life imprisonment and a fine ranging from ₱1 million to ₱5 million.

Yamsuan said such con games employed by cybercriminals could increase this coming holiday season and spill over to online shopping sites where people could fall prey to fake websites that
allow scammers to get hold of the details of their victims’ credit cards and bank accounts.

He also pointed out that since the implementation of the SIM Registration Act, there have been  reports of individuals lending or selling their registered SIM cards, e-wallet accounts  and bank accounts to scammers.

Under HB 7393, these seemingly harmless acts of acting as money mules to perpetrate scams  are punishable with imprisonment of six months and one day to six years, or a fine ranging from ₱100,000 to ₱200,000, or both.

Persons perpetrating social engineering schemes, such as phishing, vishing or smishing, are penalized under the bill with imprisonment of six years and one day to 12 years or a fine of at least P200,000 but not exceeding P500,000, or both. The maximum penalty shall be imposed if the victims include senior citizens aged 60 years old or above.

E-wallet provider GCash has reported that from January 2022 to June 2023, it has already blocked four million accounts from accessing its platform on suspicion of fraud.

The PLDT reported that last year, it has blocked more than 17 billion attempts to access malicious domains and blacklisted 5.5 million domains used in phishing, spam and other hoax activities.

Some 433 million text messages containing phishing sites were also blocked, in addition to more than 400,000 mobile numbers found to be engaged in illegal activities, according to PLDT.

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