More teachers cry cybertheft; NBI on it
MANILA, Philippines — More teachers and nonteaching personnel of the Department of Education (DepEd) have complained about unauthorized withdrawals from their payroll accounts in Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) and disputed claims of the state-run bank that they were victims of a “phishing” scam.
From 11 complainants on Monday, Teachers’ Dignity Coalition chair Benjo Basas said in an interview with dzBB on Tuesday that based on their latest data, 20 teachers and DepEd personnel have reported unauthorized transactions done through their Landbank payroll accounts.
The amount of money lost ranged from P160,000 to P200,000, he said.
“We’re not blaming Landbank but we’re asking for an investigation. The teachers were just hurt because it seemed like they were quick to conclude that the devices were compromised,” Basas added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said he would order the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the reported online theft that defrauded public school teachers.
“The NBI is already looking into phishing of bank accounts on a broader scale, but I am minded to issue a separate directive to the NBI in the case of the teacher-victims,” Guevarra said.
Last week, the NBI arrested two Nigerians and three alleged Filipino cohorts suspected of stealing money from the bank accounts of about 700 depositors of BDO Unibank through a similar fraudulent internet scheme.
In a statement on Tuesday, Landbank maintained that its systems were safe and secure, saying the incidents involving teachers were isolated cases and that they had fallen victim to a “phishing” scam that compromised their personal information.
Phishing occurs when users get an email or text message instructing them to click an attachment or link, which then gives the scammer access to the victims’ bank details.
However, Joseph Damina, a nonteaching staff at DepEd Calabarzon, said he did not click on any link or attachment, nor talked to anyone about the one-time passwords (OTPs) he got from Landbank.
“I am aware of schemes or scams like that so [Landbank’s statement] puzzles me. I received OTPs but nobody contacted me to ask for that information,” he told the Inquirer on Tuesday.
Around 2 a.m. on Aug. 15, 2021, Damina received 5 OTP messages from the bank, but he was able to see these only when he woke up at 8 a.m.
“I was alarmed upon seeing those texts because I did not do online transactions that day,” he said.
He immediately opened his iAccess account, which allows Landbank clients to transact fund transfers and bill payments, among others, without having to go physically to the branch.
But to his surprise, the system did not accept his username and password. He then tried to reset his account using the security questions and upon logging in, all that was left of his P163,283 in savings was P100.02.
“The money I lost was supposed to be for my wedding this year,” Damina said as he burst into tears. “I saved that for a long time but then it suddenly disappeared like a bubble and now they would tell me they can’t give it back.”
He went to the Landbank Marikina Marcos Highway branch on Aug. 16 to report the incident, but it was only last Jan. 19 that he received a letter from Landbank saying it would not be able to act on the appeal for restitution—the same message given to William Montecalvo, a teacher from Quezon City who experienced the same problem.
“They only sent me a letter without giving a copy of the ‘investigation’ they conducted on where my money went. If they are giving the same resolution to other victims, what else can we do? Who should we turn to?” Damina said.
Another teacher from Caminawit Central School in Occidental Mindoro also lost her savings of P149,065.85 due to unauthorized transactions.
Sendly Frias was about to send money to her children when she found out on the morning of Nov. 28, 2021, that her bank account balance had been depleted to P45.81.
“I cried and trembled in fear wondering, ‘what happened?’” she said.
Frias did not receive any OTP messages on her registered mobile phone number but saw the details of bank transactions that transpired on the evening of Nov. 27 through her emails.
About P49,000 was transferred to a Unionbank account, she said, while another P50,000 was sent to a GCash account.
They tried to trace the owner of the contact number but the phone just rang, she said.
She immediately reported the incident to the Landbank branch in Occidental Mindoro and asked for a copy of her statement of accounts, but said she has yet to receive an update from the bank.
“They also told me when I reported that even if we find the person responsible for the scam, the money would not be restored. Is that right?” she asked. INQ
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