Has anyone been penalized for violating privacy laws in the Philippines? This question cropped up again as scammers were found to have innovated in their ways to target victims through personalized messages.

The social media post of Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen last week on how scams have evolved resulted in the usual kneejerk investigations and declarations of government officials that they are on top of the situation. Yet, as the practice of scamming continues to improve, scams defraud more people and government agencies fail to identify the criminals and put them in jail for violating data privacy.

Consumers are getting anxious about this so-called innovation where scammers now know their names, not only their mobile phone numbers, and these potential victims are demanding that government action show results.

Justice Leonen called attention to this new scam practice where messages to potential victims have become personalized. Leonen posted on Twitter last Wednesday, August 31, 2022, this comment: “Unsolicited or scam text messages on our phones already contain our names. This means that there is a data provider out there that has leaked or sold or been careless about our information. This makes all of us now vulnerable. Very dangerous.”

After Leonen’s post, social media users who received similar text messages repeated calls for the proper government agencies to do something to protect them from scammers. What they have seen so far are the usual warnings from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against believing text messages with the recipient’s name offering a job or money.

I too received a text message that said, “Ang masuwerteng bituin ngayon ay ikaw, Nini Cabaero” (“Today’s lucky star is you, Nini Cabaero”) and offered me gambling wins and a bonus.

Scams are acts or operations to deceive people out of their money or savings. There are text scams and social media scams where criminals constantly come up with new ways to deceive users. Other versions are job and investment scams, tech support scams, charity, and medical scams, love or romance scams, grandchild scams, Facebook Messenger scams where you get a reward if you click on a link, and so on.

The National Privacy Commission (NPC), reacting to media reports on Leonen’s post, said it is investigating text scams together with the NTC, Philippine National Police, and the major telecommunications companies. The investigations must have started even before the onset of the personalized text scam and these agencies could have shared what progress they’ve had so far. Unless there was no progress.

Rather than the promise of action, these agencies will address the consumers’ fears if they are able to show results.

(Victims of digital scams may file a complaint with the NPC at www.privacy.gov.ph. The Data Privacy Act sets the penalty for unauthorized processing of personal information and sensitive personal information at imprisonment for one to three years and a fine of not less than P500,000 but not more than P2,000,000.)