More regulations needed to curb 'money mule' scheme, other cyber crimes: experts

Warren De Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2022 04:57 PM

MANILA - "Bob", not his real name, is a victim of an unauthorized withdrawal which cost him P500,000, initially meant for the birth of his child last year.

He wanted to confront the owner of the account his money was transferred to, but the bank wouldn’t share the details. 

“Siyempre nung una nagtaka ako kaagad kung bakit ayaw agad sabihin eh, parang may tinatago pa sila eh...talagang galit na galit kami. Hard-earned money namin yon, tapos pandemic pa. Napakahirap mag-ipon," he said. 

(I was confused, the bank did not want to give the details. It's like they're hiding it. I was so frustrated. It was our hard-earned money and there's still a pandemic. It's really hard to save under this situation.)

Other victims who were able to trace the money to another account hit a dead-end upon finding out that the person's account was just used to move the money.

Such attacks are enabled by money mules or mule accounts, Bankfraud.PH head and IT professional Richard Lo said. 

Bankfraud.PH is a group dedicated to helping bank depositors who have been victimized by cyber attacks. 

BPI earlier warned its clients of the proliferating money-mule scam while the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) urged the public to become more vigilant to avoid becoming a money mule. 

BAP said a money mule is someone who, either intentionally or unintentionally, uses a bank account to transfer money on behalf of someone else, usually a cybercriminal.

They are usually lured with financial incentives, the group said.

Lo said, based on Bankfraud.ph research, the going rate for such mule accounts ranges from P200 (for renting the account) to as high as P8,000, the latter including ATM cards, mobile banking, and sim cards associated with the account.

But Lo said anyone who would sell allow their accounts to be used by complete strangers should not be called victims.

“They know what they are going into naman eh. When you surrender, when you give these things to another person, you are basically surrendering even your identity," Lo said.

"You give these people authority to take over your bank account. It means they are going to perform transactions on your behalf,...I don’t think they are not that stupid naman na to sell their accounts knowing it can also be used for evil deeds," he added.

CALL FOR REGULATIONS

BPI Chief Digital Officer Noel Santiago believes that if such money mule schemes are eradicated, cyber criminals would no longer have any avenue to extract cash from banks, effectively ending their reign of terror. 

However, Santiago said, the act of selling a bank account or e-wallet account is not a crime here in the Philippines, just a violation of terms and conditions agreed upon with the bank or e-wallet.

Santiago said the fact that criminals behind these money-mule schemes are bold enough to advertise on social media speaks volumes.

“Attractive pricing pa nga... (The pricing is even attractive). It is becoming sophisticated, no?" he said.

The passage of pending bills in Congress to make the sale of bank accounts and e-wallet accounts illegal could lessen, if not totally eliminate, cyber attacks, Santiago said.

“If the accomplice to the crime becomes a criminal liability as well, people will think twice about it. Why would I, for a few hundred pesos up to a few thousand pesos, why would I risk myself go to jail or have a criminal record for that? They will think twice," he said.

The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) said it would also push for the passage of House Bill No. 9615 or the Bank Account and E-Wallet Regulation Act. 

The use of e-wallets and other digital financial means has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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