Online scams appear to have unseated the illegal drug trade as the top organized crime operation in the country, a government official said last week.
Indications that online fraud operations have proliferated and even grown in notoriety were presented during a news briefing of officials of the Philippine Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) last Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.
In the news briefing, officials pointed to the confiscation of thousands of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards from Philippine offshore gaming operators. An information technology expert also showed how he could register a SIM using a fake identification card with a photo of the cartoon character Bart Simpson. The telecommunications company did not flag the registration. Another character, “Monkey D. Luffy” of “One Piece,” also has a SIM card whose registration was not flagged by the other telco.
Not laughable at all but the gambling syndicates’ use of mobile cards and e-wallets and cartoon and anime characters owning SIMs are the latest twist in the ongoing challenge to curb online fraud and criminal activities after the government’s regulation of SIM card ownership.
I was one of those who called for immediate action after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed his first law since he assumed office. Marcos signed on Oct. 10, 2022 the SIM Registration Act, his first law, in an effort to prevent cybercrimes. I was criticized online for demanding urgent action just after the law was passed, but there was no other way to match the President’s priority if not with immediate and dramatic measures. I pointed to how these online scammers were making a mockery of the law.
Less than two months since the deadline lapsed for the registration of SIM cards last July, government regulators admitted to how the problem of online fraud has proliferated as scammers took advantage of compliance gaps.
This must be the reason why PAOCC executive director Gilbert Cruz said online scams have dislodged the illegal drug trade in terms of organized crime operations. These crimes may not be as deadly as those committed in the illegal drug trade but online scams are way up there, he said. He may have exaggerated a bit as he failed to cite figures to back his statement, but the shock was needed in the anti-cybercrime campaign.
We thought the spread of spam text messages or smishing would die down as telecommunications companies and government agencies implemented SIM registration. Smishing is a form of cybercrime where a text message with the recipient’s name prompts the individual to click on the link to reveal more personal information such as credit card numbers and passwords. Those pesky spam messages died down for a while after the law was passed but they resurrected later and grew in number in recent weeks.
The mockery of the law by these online scammers continues.