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NPC’s Liboro: No direct evidence linking contact tracing forms to influx of spam text messages

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) is now looking into reports of recent influx of spam text messages recruiting Filipinos into jobs with “too good to be true” high salaries.

However, initial monitoring conducted by the Privacy body found no direct evidence linking the spam messages to leaks from contact tracing forms.

“In this particular case, ‘pagkat libo-libo kung ‘di man daang libong Pilipino ang nakakakuha ng mga text na ito, ay napakahirap gawin niyan kung iisa-isahin ang mga contact tracing form o health declaration forms,” Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said at the Laging Handa briefing.

(Although thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Filipinos receive these kinds of text messages, it is very difficult to conduct this scheme by going through contact tracing forms one by one.)

“Wala tayong direktang ebidensya na nagpapakita nito,” Liboro said.

(There is no direct evidence showing this.)

Global syndicate

The NPC chief said that an organized international or global syndicate is behind the influx of random spam text messages.

He said that similar schemes are also monitored in other countries.

“Ang gumagawa nito at gumagamit ng mga numero na nakuha nila sa ibang paraan. Malalaking database ang ginagamit nila dito. Maaaring nanggaling ‘yan sa mga dating na-breach o na-hack,” Liboro said.

(Those who are doing this have obtained numbers from other means. They are using a massive database which they obtained from previous breaches or hacks.)

The Privacy chief said the NPC is also looking at the “dark web” to find out if there are certain parties trading mobile numbers.

In a separate statement, Liboro noted that the recent smishing activities are 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.”

“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,” he added.

Liboro advised the public to immediately delete the suspected spam message and block the number of the sender.

“I-report ito National Telecommunications Commission maging sa National Privacy Commission para mapagbigay alam sa mga telco,” he said.

(Report it to NTC as well as to NPC so we can alert the telcos.) 

Telcos, banks, e-commerce platforms summoned

The NPC, meanwhile, said it has summoned the data protection officers of telcos, online shopping apps and several 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.

“We have summoned them to detail their current and future measures to combat smishing. Ultimately, we want to secure their commitment and focus in fighting these fraudulent practices so we can best strategize how to block these messages and protect our data subjects,” Liboro said.

“We hope to find areas where the NPC and these industry players can establish a more proactive approach in fighting smishing and other scams, moving forward,” he said.

The Privacy chief told the public to always scrutinize the messages they receive and not easily believe its lofty promises of easy, passive income opportunities and high-paying jobs.

“If from an unknown number, and with an offer that is too good to be true, it is most probably not true and is a scam,” Liboro said.

Liboro assured that the NPC will continue to monitor the situation and encouraged victims to immediately file a report against the malicious senders, especially if they think their personal data has been compromised. — RSJ, GMA News