MANILA - The Bank of the Philippine Islands on Wednesday said clients should be extra careful as the number of "money-mule" scams increases.
Money mule is a form of money laundering that facilitates the transfer of illegally obtained money on behalf of someone else and is punishable by law, BPI chief digital officer Noel Santiago said.
Santiago said unbanked Filipinos are at greater risk of being exploited as money mules. Based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' 2019 record, over 51 million adult Filipinos remain unbanked.
“In the last couple of years, as we shifted to a more digital lifestyle, we made it more convenient for legitimate clients to be onboarded, to be accepted in the financial industry," Santiago said.
"Now this is where those criminal minds saw an opportunity and say, ‘Maybe I can create digital accounts that can be used as a mule account’,” he added.
This is prohibited under the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2021, punishable with jail time, hefty fines and account closure.
Criminals also recruit people with existing accounts in exchange of money. Fraudsters "borrow" the account of the victims to receive a remittance from another person, Santiago said, adding that they use social media to advertise.
BPI said it has been working with the Bankers Association of the Philippines to strengthen the country's cybercrime law. The mobile number registration will help to curb the scheme, Santiago said.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas earlier said online fraud cost consumers around P540 million in 2021 alone.
Some of the country's big banks were hit by other types of cybercrimes in 2021.