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Congressman wants text scams probed

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A lawmaker on Wednesday urged concerned government agencies to take immediate legal action to stop the alleged misuse of personal information in the wake of a spike in spam text messages and online scams, according to a report by Philippine News Agency.

In filing House Resolution 2378, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas sounded the alarm over the rise in spam, scam, and phishing attempts through text messages, which can be used as tools to spread disinformation and fake news during the elections.

Vargas called on the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) to conduct a thorough investigation on the matter.

“As we enter the campaign period, urgent steps should be taken to ensure that these schemes are not weaponized into tools to spread fake news and disinformation. Our right to suffrage and the integrity of our elections may become casualties if the concerned agencies fail to act,” he said in his resolution.

Vargas said it is the duty of government agencies “to protect consumers and the fundamental human right to privacy.”

“Government should stop those who take advantage of the grim situation of the pandemic for their own interests by breaching the data privacy of individuals and proliferating spam and scam text messages,” he said.

He noted that telecommunication provider Globe Telecom had reportedly deactivated 5,670 confirmed spam numbers and blocked 71 million spam messages this year.

The company had also said unsolicited marketing campaigns from digital marketers or spammers use “existing databases culled from public information or online data.”

He said there has also been an increase in reports of dubious financial transactions, with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) recording a 57 percent increase in reports of suspicious transactions, indicating a surge in financial scams.

“Speculations from consumers that their phone numbers might have been sourced from contact-tracing forms, indicating a breach of privacy, have surfaced and must be addressed diligently and immediately,” he said.

He said the spate of unwanted text messages in forms of spams, scams, and phishing attempts is not only an inconvenience to Filipino consumers but also indicate a clear breach of data privacy and a possible illegal sale of private data, violating Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

Earlier this week, the NPC summoned data protection officers of telecommunication companies, online shopping platforms, and some banks to report on their spam prevention measures and further steps to combat the recent surge of scam texts that have been soliciting and misusing personal information.

This came after some netizens expressed concern over getting spam text messages, a scheme known as 'smishing'.

NPC Commissioner Raymund Liboro ruled out contact tracing forms used by establishments as the cause of the smishing activities and pointed a global syndicate as behind the scheme.

Liboro also reminded subscribers to remain vigilant and refrain from opening suspicious links.

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