THE RIGHT MOVE
After food, shelter and water, mobile phones may just as well be the fourth basic need of Filipinos as mobile devices have undeniably been an integral part of daily life of even those living under minimum wage. In fact, a 2020 report made by Social and Hootsuite reveals that “about 87 percent of Filipino adults are mobile phone users as of 2018,” while the number of mobile phone connections exceeds our total population. And in this era of social media use, over 76 million Filipinos are internet users as of January 2022.
Out of these users, the majority of the population not just in the Philippines, but in other parts of the world prefer prepaid SIM cards, with 73 percent of pre-paid mobile subscriptions globally. Unlike postpaid lines offered by telecommunication companies, prepaid cards have been favored for their accessibility and convenience. With this simple and straightforward process of buying and using prepaid cards, however, comes the likewise simple and straightforward ruse that we have come to know as text scams.
Also known as phishing scams, millions of Filipinos have been bombarded with these dangerous, if not annoying attempts from criminals who managed to retrieve login credentials, passwords, and other information leading to cyber robbery.
From the earlier tactics of simple “pasa load” where the con artist “borrows” load by posing as a relative or friend in need, the schemes have evolved into more “sophisticated” if not outright ridiculous ploys over the years. Even names of reputable companies have been used by scammers to lure victims with texts such as “We have noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts,” and “Congratulations! You have won a prize! Click this link to claim it!”
One type of scam text I recently came across which displays the evolving Machiavellianism among these scammers came in the form of life- threatening text messages designed to terrorize and pressure the recipients into sending money via gcash. While it is an easy option to block messages like this for some, others may not be as prudent nor patient. Blocking numbers is nothing but an attempt at a band-aid solution when there is no accountability to begin with. As with cyber bullies who hide behind dummy accounts, prepaid card criminals hide behind anonymity.
This barrage of text scams may have been a catalyst to the resurrection of the once highly disputed, and vetoed, Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration bill. Under the bill, each Public
Telecommunications Entity (PTE) or Authorized Vendor must require end users to complete and sign registration forms issued by the PTE. The form must include proof that the person appearing before the seller is the same person who issued the document and has provided valid identification. It will likewise include the subscriber’s name, birthdate, gender, address, assigned mobile phone number and serial number, and a valid photo ID. SIM cards sold or issued before the proposed SIM card registration law came into effect will also need to be registered or risk deactivation.
One of the bill’s principal authors, Tingog Party-list Representative Jude Acidre says that identifying users of prepaid cards makes them accountable for everything they would do with their numbers and ridding them of the chance to hide behind false identities.
“The onslaught of cybercrimes and fake news tear away the fabric of our democracy. Jurisprudence is replete with examples clarifying the limits of our rights in cases of illicit acts or when public safety and order are at stake,” Acidre said.
On his part, Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco, House committee on information and communications technology chair is confident that the SIM card registration bill will be passed into law within the year, and views this step as a necessary tool in addressing the proliferation of text scammers in the country.
As of January 2020, 155 countries have mandatory SIM registration laws. Despite this, however, critics claim it to be ineffective in the war against text scams and overall phishing considering how technology provides other avenues for cyber criminals other than SMS. But asRep.Tiango says, “This law is not a “silver bullet” against the ongoing scams that have proliferated in the last few months, but it will serve as a deterrent against unscrupulous people victimizing Filipinos.”
The question is, where do we draw the line between protecting one’s constitutional right to privacy and removing anonymity to deter criminals? While much is still up for debate, the millions of Filipinos who have been at risk of losing a few bucks to fraudulent “pasa loads,” or thousands of their hard earned money to phishing, or even their basic need for peace of mind, will most likely find comfort in knowing there is a way to finally identify criminals who have been used to hiding behind unregistered numbers.
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