MANILA - "Sulit.com? I've never even heard of that."
Eileen Manalo, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Makati Medical Center, could not believe her ears when an unidentified person asked if she was selling her iPhone in an online auction site.
Speaking to radio dzMM, Manalo said it was the first time that she got an inkling that someone had stolen her identity and was using it to scam people in the popular auction site Sulit.com.ph.
"Last Monday, tinawagan ako ng information to please call this certain person who has been complaining na bumibili daw siya ng iPhone ko. Sabi ko what are you talking about, wala akong pinagbibiling iPhone? So I got in touch with this person. Her name is Cherry Ann Hancock and she said that through Sulit, binayaran daw niya yung unit na pinagbibili ko for P15,000," Manalo told radio dzMM.
The doctor, who also practices her profession at Asian Hospital, St. Luke's Medical Center and Philippine General Hospital, said she has never been involved in online trading and had never even heard of Sulit before.
The victim, who has been an online trader for five years, told Manalo that she paid for the item in advance through Western Union, without first receiving the iPhone, since the person she talked to sounded convincing.
She said she was saddened by the incident since she did not know that she would become a victim of online fraud.
"E kasi doctora parang masyadong credible yung ano. Maniniwala ka sa kanya. Sabi 'A teka, yung wife ko si Doctora Manalo naliligo pa. Nagsha-shower. We're actually out of town kasi namatay yung sister ko.' Lalaki yung kausap. 'Di bale, padala mo na lang yung pera sa Western Union tapos i-se-send na namin yung iPhone," Manalo recalled Hancock as saying.
For her part, the doctor said she experienced both frustration and anger that someone was using her good name to scam other people.
"All this time, I was taken aback. Talagang nine-nerbyos ako. At galit na galit ako. So pumunta ako sa Sulit.com.ph through my secretary to complain pero nanghihingi pa sila ng e-mail and all other information so I said lalo lang ako mananakawan ng identity so I did not go there," she said.
Manalo said she had wanted to go to the Sulit office to personally complain. However, three days before her planned visit, another friend said her name was used in another online auction that ended in fraud.
"So another name na naman, Beatrice Candaza. Nagbayad na naman siya ng Western Union ng P15,000 kasi nga daw pinagbibili ko yung iPhone ko. Same number, different address naman ito," she said.
She said another victim complained about not receiving a Louis Vuitton bag she was selling on Sulit.
"Finorward niya P14,000. Meron pa siyang spiel. Sabi ko daw: 'I am currently on duty kasi my dear. I only had those pics posted. Anyway, refundable naman. If you are not satisfied with the bag,'" she recalled.
Manalo said she is angered and scared by the online fraud using her name. She noted that the scammer seemed to have enough information about her work to make the account in Sulit look legitimate.
A check with the National Bureau of Investigation also revealed that other professionals have been victimized by the same modus operandi of identity theft. The professionals who fell victim to identity theft include doctors and even a principal of a college in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
"Natatakot ako kasi any of us can fall victim and nananahimik kami dito, mga doctor, mga professional," she said.
HOW THEY DO IT
Agent Victor Lorenzo, NBI Cyber Crime Division executive officer, said they have received similar complaints of identity theft and fraud in Manila and Makati.
He said some of the scammers would sometimes visit clinics just to pick up a doctor's calling card and then do research on the Internet.
"Ang tingin namin nakukuha yung full name ng doctora, schedule, hospitals and phone numbers. They can research online sa Facebook and then they will be creating a profile sa Sulit. Doon sila nakakapagbiktima," he said.
Lorenzo said the NBI is cooperating with Sulit to investigate these cases of online fraud. Still, he noted that the number of online fraud cases is very low compared to the large number of successful transactions on the site.
"That is a benefit of internet that there is no physical meet-ups," he said.
He urged online buyers to do their own research about the sellers before considering buying the item.
"If it is too good to be true, it is not true. On the practical side, a doctor selling a gadget - tignan mo kung relevant sa profession, tignan mo kung totoo," he said.
Manalo, however, said there should be stricter monitoring of the identities of sellers in auction sites.
She said identity theft victimizes not just the unwitting buyers but professionals whose identities have been co-opted.
"My life has been disrupted since Monday since I found out about this...It takes you years and years to build your practice and build up you name and someone can just ruin it in a matter of seconds," she added.
She added: "Somebody has to be made accountable for this."