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NPC tags an “organized global syndicate” behind spam SMS that continues to plague more and more Filipinos

By Bim Santos Published Nov 23, 2021 6:42 pm

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) said that “a global crime syndicate” is possibly behind the recent spate of spam text messages that Malacanang has acknowledged is a cause for concern.

In a press statement, NPC Commissioner Raymund Liboro said that based on their initial investigation, the spam messages “are (being) run by a global crime syndicate, not by a group that has gained unauthorized access to contact tracing forms, which was one of the first suspicions.”

A number of Filipinos have complained online about receiving the spam text messages, which many said may have stemmed from the contact tracing forms where one is usually asked to provide a phone number. These suspicious messages often invite the recipient to apply for a job with a promising return by clicking on a web link, which is often a WhatsApp chat link.

If our initial findings prove true, that personal data is being exploited by criminals abroad, then this also becomes a matter of national security.

The NPC has also tagged the spam messages as a form of “smishing,” which is a form of phishing attack that uses SMS. Phishing, in turn, is a type of cyber attack that attempts to steal sensitive user data such as personal details, credit card numbers, or bank credentials.

“If our initial findings prove true, that personal data is being exploited by criminals abroad, then this also becomes a matter of national security, which should compel government, the private sector and advocate groups to work hand in hand and take more urgent and concrete action to safeguard,” Liboro said. 

Liboro said that the NPC has also summoned telcos, banks, and e-commerce platforms “to report on their spam prevention measures and further steps to combat the recent surge of scam texts.”

During PTV’s Laging Handa program today, Nov. 23, Liboro also advised consumers to ignore or block spam text messages.

During the palace press briefing today, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles answered yes when asked if the issue is a concern for the Inter Agency Task Force.

‘Oo, siyempre ‘pag privacy, issue yan. It’s always a cause of concern. Not only for the IATF but for government and for the public, syempre. Kaya po nandiyan ang NTC, the national privacy, they have their mandate, they know what they must do, and we will continue to monitor them in the performance of their mandate,” said Nograles.

Both PLDT-Smart Communications and Globe Telecom have released press statements stating their recent efforts to combat SMS spam.

In a Nov. 22 press release, Globe Telecom reported having deactivated 5,670 “confirmed spam numbers” and blocking “close to 71 million spam messages in this year alone.”

Smart, meanwhile, also reported today of having blocked “an average of 400 to 500 mobile numbers daily that have been found to be related to SMS hoax and spam, and some 40 domains and IP addresses used by online scammers.”