DOJ stresses: Cyber harassment, ‘debt-shaming’ of online debtors illegal
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has stressed that harassing people who took a loan from online lenders — like posting the debtor’s sensitive details and shaming them online — is an illegal act that may be punished under the current law.
DOJ on Wednesday released a list of things that constitute cyber harassment of debtors, after saying that their Office of Cybercrime (OOC) have received numerous reports about online lenders doing unfair debt collection and online debt-shaming.
According to DOJ, the following actions may be liable under Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, R.A. No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 6 of R.A. No. 10175, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Memorandum Circular No. 18, series of 2019:
- Accessing the debtors’ phone book/contacts list for purposes of sending them messages in the event of untimely and/or non-payment;
- Posting the debtors’ personal and sensitive personal information online for purposes of shaming them;
- Threatening debtors with death and physical injuries if they fail to settle their account balances;
- Using profane language through text messages directly sent to the debtors and to the debtors’ references for purposes of shaming them.
“Due to the increasing number of reports received and endorsed to the [DOJ] – [OOC] involving unfair debt collection practices and cyber harassment committed by online lending companies (OLCs), the DOJ-OOC issued a Public Advisory dated 23 April 2021 enumerating the acts that would qualify as unfair debt collection practices and cyber harassment, and the corresponding violations that victims may file before the appropriate government agencies,” DOJ said on Wednesday.
Online debt-shaming and other forms of cyber harassment of debtors is not new; in 2019, reports from the Philippine Daily Inquirer revealed that several users of online loan schemes, usually short-term or payday borrowing methods, have experienced being shamed by the lenders in various ways.
In the said report, the loanee’s long-time friend received a notification from the company about him not being able to pay up on a small loan — despite the loanee not giving the lending company any contact details.
It turned out that the company tapped his contact details to shame him, therefore forcing him to pay immediately rather than risk being shamed again.
This has led various organizations to push for the criminal prosecution of online lenders who harassed and shamed borrowers who failed to settle their loans immediately.
According to DOJ, people who experienced any of the above-mentioned harassment and shaming incidents can lodge complaints before the National Privacy Commission especially if the violation centers on data privacy.
Other complaints in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act can be submitted the National Bureau of Investigation, local Office of the Prosecutor, or the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group, and to the SEC if the violator is a registered online lender company.
“To combat or prevent the further commission of unfair debt collection practices and cyber harassments, the DOJ-OOC also encourages the public to report erring OLCs to the NBI-CCD, PNP-ACG, NPC, and the SEC,” DOJ added.
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