Senators seek better safeguards from DICT as SIM scams persist
MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Tuesday pressed the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to come up with better safeguards to stop the use of registered subscriber identity module (SIM) cards for cyber-scamming activities, mainly in Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos).
Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Joel Villanueva expressed dismay that scammers seem to be mocking the newly passed law on SIM registration, or Republic Act No. 11934, which had earlier been touted as a deterrent to cyberscams.
“If the scammers have become creative, we (in government) should be more creative. While we do not discount the warnings and notices sent by the agencies and telcos (telecommunications companies) to the public, we must go above and beyond if we are to combat this plague in our telecom system,” said Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services.
The Senate panel started an inquiry into the continued proliferation of text spams and scams despite the lapse in July of the SIM registration period, allowing the deactivation of unregistered cards.
Senators also expressed disgust over reports that up to 107,000 unregistered and preregistered SIM cards were being used by Pogo firms for “text” and “love” scam operations, citing the recent raids on Pogo hubs Xinchuang Network in Las Piñas City and on SA Rivendell Gaming in Pasay City.
The raids supposedly yielded unregistered SIM and mobile phones with “text blasting” applications and text scripts for scamming operations, Poe said.
“The preregistered SIMs came with e-wallet accounts with P100,000 to P500,000 each. With at least 28,000 confiscated SIMs, the total amount runs in the billions [of pesos],” Poe added.
She said the money collected in these operations would reportedly then be funneled to a mobile phone which transferred the cash to a digital platform abroad.
IRR amendments eyed
Poe noted how telcos have not provided means to make reporting of text scams easier.
“Why is reporting a text scam seemingly tedious while registration of a SIM is a breeze?” she said.
Poe added the Senate was looking to recommend amending the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to compel telcos to help their clients on cyber-scamming complaints.
Senators also lamented the supposed loopholes in the telcos’ SIM registration and verification process, following a disclosure from Jeremy Lotoc, chief of the National Bureau of Investigation cybercrime division, that the system accepted a registrant using a photo of a monkey.
“We are also having a hard time tracking down the cybercriminal because of the flaws in the system,” Lontoc said.
According to Commissioner Ella Blanca Lopez, the National Telecommunications Commission has registered a total of 118.9 million SIM cards, the bulk of which are about 113 million prepaid SIMs.
Villanueva said the latest cybercrime-related raids on Pogo hubs further showed that “the country does not need them.”
“The Pogo sector accounts for only 0.03 percent of our gross domestic product from 2021 until August 2022, equivalent to P4.2 billion. This number is further diminished in view of the significant social costs and reputational risk brought about by the increase in Pogo-related criminal activities,” he said.
Zubiri also called on the prevailing online money transfer platforms to impose tighter screening procedures to help curb scams.
Art Samaniego, co-convener of Scam Watch Philippines, also appealed to Congress to impose stiffer penalties on cybercriminals, as well as study the possibility of imposing limits to the number of SIM cards registered for individuals.
RA 11934 was signed into law by President Marcos in October 2022. One of the main goals of the measure was to curb the widespread text scams.
The PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, however, earlier said cybercrimes committed using a SIM card went up by 190 percent from January to June 2023, totaling 4,104 cases compared to 1,415 during the same period in 2022.