Sisters posing as ‘cybercops’ arrested

Handcuffs over fingerprinting forms. STORY: Sisters posing as ‘cybercops’ arrested stock photo

MANILA, Philippines — Two sisters who posed as members of the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) of the Philippine National Police were arrested in a trap set by real “cybercops” in Marikina City on Thursday.

According to an ACG report on the case, siblings Gina Gutierrez, 49, and Mary Ann Bersabe, 31, offered to help a male victim of an online scam who had been duped into paying P18,500 for a smartphone.

Investigators gathered that on Aug. 5 the victim closed a deal online with a person who had the Facebook account of “Emerson Gerona Cabrera Jr.,” agreeing to pay for an iPhone 13 Pro Max on installment.

But after making a downpayment of P18,500, the account blocked him on Facebook. He later shared what happened to him also on the social media network to warn others about the scam.

One of the Facebook comments on his post gave him an email address of another person who could purportedly help him get his money back. Taking this tip, he got a reply from that address saying that some ACG personnel could indeed help him—but for a “processing fee’’ of P7,500.

On Aug. 9, the victim received a call from a person who introduced herself as an ACG operative, but who demanded another P4,500 as processing fee.

Crame alerted

Sensing another swindle, the victim reported the matter directly to the PNP-ACG office in Camp Crame.

In an entrapment operation on Thursday afternoon, Gutierrez and Bersabe were arrested after they showed up at a remittance center in Marikina City and claimed the P4,500 sent by the victim to lure them in.

The suspects are facing charges for swindling, usurpation of authority, violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the Access Devices Regulation Act, the PNP-ACG said.

“We will untiringly remind our netizens to exercise caution in their online engagements as cybercriminals constantly improve their online engagement [tactics],” ACG director Brig. Gen. Joel Doria said in a statement on Friday.

Lt. Michelle Sabino, spokesperson for the ACG also warned the public that legitimate police officers would not charge for their services. “The ACG will not ask for a centavo when the public file their complaints with us. Our services are free,” she said.

Exploiting the pandemic

According to the PNP, its anticybercrime unit received at least 34,433 cybercrime complaints in the first six months of the year alone, mostly about buy-and-sell scams but also involving pornography.

Online scams account for about a third of the cybercrimes reported to the PNP, with social media being the most common platform used by the perpetrators.

In August last year, then PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said the agency filed 121 criminal complaints and charged 80 people in court between March 9, 2020 to Aug. 9, 2020, for cybercrimes exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. They included suspects cited for spreading fake news about the pandemic and illegally peddling medical supplies online.

As consumers relied heavily on digital transactions during the lockdowns, the Bankers Association of the Philippines estimated that more than P1 billion had been lost to fraud as cybercriminals got more aggressive.



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