NPC probes telcos, bank and payment platform on smishing; inter-agency body formed to go after scammers

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) has formally launched an investigation into whether telcos exercised due diligence and accountability in transacting with data aggregators linked to the sending of texts offering spurious jobs and investment schemes to millions of Filipinos.

On Monday, the NPC sent Globe Telecom, Inc., Smart Communications, Inc. and Dito Telecommunity Corp. orders to submit within five days documents and information that will provide the Commission specifics on their data flows and transactions involving data aggregators.

The Commission also sent orders to Union Bank of the Philippines, Inc. and GCash (Mynt – Globe Fintech Innovations, Inc.) –– the main payment channels where victims are directed to deposit their investments. The investment accounts invariably become inaccessible to the victims after they had been enticed to deposit larger sums in exchange for bigger commission.

New group against ICT-enabled scams

Another government action aimed at combating smishing and text spams that have cost a number of Filipinos their hard-earned money was the creation of an interagency group.

Formed on Nov. 26, the group against ICT-enabled scams and fraud consists of the NPC, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Labor and Employment, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, National Security Council and Anti-Money Laundering Council.

The CICC, headed by Executive Director Cesar Mancao, is the lead agency. It will serve, among other things, as the hub that will receive complaints from cellular phone subscribers and will be tasked with forwarding the numbers used by scammers to telcos for blocking.

Attestation, aggregators

The NPC is also pushing for call and text attestation to prevent what Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro calls a national “privacy disaster.’’ Attestation can trace the owner of a number used in calling or sending texts, as these are listed in a registry.

Involved in the proliferation of smishing and text spams are data aggregators, which could be legal entities tapped by companies such as global brands to act on their behalf and deal with telcos in blasting promotions and other company messages to their customers.

“At the meeting with the NPC on November 24, the data protection officers of Globe Telecom and Smart Communications revealed a complex chain of data aggregation and handling, involving data brokers, that is bringing new challenges to compliance and enforcement,” Liboro said.

The telcos said they traced the smishing and text spams to China and India-webhosted companies.

In its report to the NPC, Globe in particular identified a data broker, Macrokiosk, that was tapped by a firm named China Skyline Telecom, as the primary source of messages that “share the theme of job hiring and contain a Whatsapp contact link.”

Globe said 1.55 million of such messages were sent through its network from Nov. 11 to 21 alone.

United effort vs ICT enabled scams and frauds

In a recently conducted inter-agency meeting, the NPC, DOJ, DTI, DICT, CICC, and other agencies have committed to strengthen consumer protection and widen the hunt versus the perpetrators of this scam.

The DOJ said on Friday that it would coordinate with its counterparts abroad to build cases against the perpetrators of this cybercrime.

The NPC has encouraged telcos to continue blocking these data aggregators, as well as the numbers, domains and internet protocol addresses that enable the smishing and text spams.

Smart Communications has blocked at least 60 web domains. Globe Telecom, for its part, has blocked 1 billion messages since January, preventing them from reaching and scamming mobile phone users.

The companies have also intensified their awareness campaigns to help more data subjects protect themselves from falling victim to smishing attacks.

The telco players have committed to cooperate fully with the NPC and provide critical information to strengthen government’s fight against smishing.

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