Monkey business | | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams

Classify it as another unattained aspiration: the promise of ending digital scams, disinformation and other cyber offenses through mandatory SIM card registration.

The failure was dramatically illustrated to the Senate by the National Bureau of Investigation last Tuesday. Wanting to test the integrity of the process, NBI officials said they successfully registered a subscriber identity module – using a fake ID bearing the picture of a grinning monkey.

You’d grin, too, if you fooled the machines.

As for us humans, we don’t know if we should laugh with the monkey, or cry.

The senators were not amused. After all, they expended time, effort and people’s money crafting Republic Act 11934, the SIM Registration Act, and even reworked it after Rodrigo Duterte during his presidency vetoed the original measure for including mandatory registration of social media accounts.

Senators asked the telecommunications giants how the monkey photo got past their SIM registration system. But let’s face it, primates are supposed to be our evolutionary cousins, so it’s possible that the face of a baboon can be accepted as human in online SIM registration. Face-to-face registration is not required.

Even when RA 11934 was being crafted, the telcos had already raised concern about the integrity of the identification process for SIM registration.

The telcos were under pressure to ensure speed and user-friendly accessibility in SIM registration. So they suggested the completion of the rollout of the national ID system first before SIM registration, with the telcos given access to the system for speedy and reliable identity verification.

The national ID is meant to have universal coverage, unlike other government-issued IDs with security features such as passport and driver’s license, which not everyone may possess.

But lawmakers said other government IDs could be used.

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When RA 11934 went into effect and people especially in marginalized communities could not present valid government-issued IDs, the government allowed barangay offices to issue identity certifications for SIM registration.

Authorities have noted that the ease of forging barangay certifications and other government-issued IDs without security features such as senior citizen IDs, as well as the sale of valid SIM cards are wreaking havoc on the implementation of RA 11934.

During the registration period, scammers even put up fake SIM registration sites to capture personal information.

With the smiling monkey issue, senators are now considering requiring facial recognition in registering SIMs.

Now we know why we continue receiving not only unwanted phone messages, but also, in my case, a phone call from a woman offering a loan.

The numerous messages that I continue to receive on my phone almost daily from various banks, warning me against digital fraud attempts, indicate that the problem persists.

E-wallet giant GCash reported this week that from January 2022 to June 2023, it had shut down a staggering four million accounts that were used for fraudulent and risky activities.

I was in fact scammed recently, with the payment coursed through a GCash account. I will write the details later, just as a warning. Suffice it to say that after seeing the monkey episode, I don’t think I’ll get my money back.

Globe Telecom has also warned that the SIM Registration Act does not cover messaging apps such as Viber, Telegram and WhatsApp as well as foreign mobile numbers, so these can still serve as platforms for all sorts of scams, disinformation and malicious messaging.

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In the case of the cyber scam hub that was raided last month in Pasay City, during which 3,000 cell phones were confiscated, the scammers carried out love scams using photos of social media influencers and celebrities, according to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission.

It’s no small issue; people are losing their life savings to these scammers. And the problem is certain to get worse as the government rushes the nation pell-mell into e-governance without adequate data safeguards.

Authorities must present ASAP examples of cyber scammers who have been prosecuted and sent to prison for violation if not of the SIM Registration Act, then of RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

RA 10175 was passed way back in 2012, and carries penalties ranging from six to 20 years in prison and fines of P100,000 to millions. It’s time to show that the law has teeth.

The “samples” must include Filipinos and foreigners alike. At both the cyber scam hub in Pasay and the one raided earlier in Las Piñas, dozens of foreigners from different countries were apprehended.

The Department of Justice may prefer deportation for foreigners, as it warns about hoodlums in robes in the country who provide foreign cyber offenders the best justice that money can buy.

But the crime is committed here so we should have first dibs at punishment. Being caught and prosecuted in the Philippines should discourage foreign devils from making our country their playground.

Members of anti-cybercrime units in the Philippine National Police have welcomed the passage of the SIM Registration Act, saying the law is helping them carry out their mission. But they also acknowledge its limitations and the need for tweaking the law.

Cyber scammers, trolls and purveyors of disinformation are aggressively finding ways to stay in business. So cybercrime busters must be even more aggressive in constantly staying at least one step ahead.

They must prevent scammers from grinning from ear to ear, like that monkey.

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