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NTC: Text scams up by 55 percent in two years

New data from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) reveals a steady rise in reported text scams over the last three years in the wake of recent proposals in Congress for stricter regulations on the sale of prepaid SIM cards, which are being used in text scams and other crimes. According to the NTC's One-Stop Public Assistance Center (OSPAC), the number of text scams the agency has received has risen steadily since 2008. Last year, OSPAClogged complaints, up 13.5 percent from 1,262 in 2009. That was also 55.3 percent more than the 922 cases reported in 2008, based on the earliest OSPAC data. Meanwhile, reports of lost or stolen mobile phones actually decreased to 9,498 in 2010 from 14,216 in 2009. Text spam is likewise down to just 496 from 1,257 in the same period. Text scams involve anonymous SMS messages sent to potential victims requesting for prepaid load or financial assistance. Perpetrators often use prepaid SIM cards — which can be bought for as little as P10 pesos at sari-sari stores — and pose as relatives or public officials. One text scam circulating last year even involved President Aquino's name. Because prepaid SIM cards are inexpensive and can be purchased without an ID, they are often used in text scams and in other crimes where the perpetrator wishes to remain anonymous or untraceable — such as in cases of harrassment, blackmail, and kidnap-for-ransom. NTC estimated that up to 79 percent of over 85 million active SIM cards in the Philippines are prepaid. Proposals are up in Congress for stricter regulations on the sale of prepaid SIM cards in an effort to curb text scams and other crimes. House Bill No. 3940, authored by Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez and partylist representative Maximo Rodriguez Jr., will require buyers of prepaid SIM cards to register with their names, valid government-issued IDs, and contact details. Prepaid SIM cards would be inactive and unusable until the registration process is complete. "Criminals are able to use prepaid (SIM cards) and they can't be traced! So it's about time that we require retail sellers to get (proper identification) before selling them," Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said. The NTC welcomed the move. NTC Common Carriers Authorization Department director Edgardo Cabarios allayed fears that the registration process could be an infringement of peoples' right to privacy. "Even just the name and address of the buyer is a big help," he told GMANews.TV. "As long as you have accountability, not necessarily a careful scrutiny of the buyer's identity, matatakot yung mga gagawa ng kalokohan (criminals would think twice about their plans)," Cabarios added. According to Cabarios, the registration process would be similar to acquiring an official receipt, clearly establishing the parties involved in the purchase of a prepaid SIM card without necessarily divulging private information about the buyer. You can get in touch with the author via Twitter, @tjdimacali. — VS, GMANews.TV