PLDT uncovers new 'group chat' modus linked to SMS spam

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 03 2021 04:02 PM

MANILA— PLDT Inc said Friday its cybersecurity team has uncovered that fraudsters were updating the SMS-related scam by using group chats.

Newer text spams direct customers to a group chat in WhatsApp, PLDT and its wireless arm, Smart Communications said in a statement. 

The telco said their experts believe that chat administrators are part of a syndicate "who could be locals operating in the Philippines."

In its investigations, the telco said the operators claim to be representatives of a Japanese department store looking to invest here.

“They’re herding potential victims into one group chat where they explain the supposed job or income opportunity. Similar with previous engagements, the fraudsters will ask customers to sign up on the syndicate’s platform, link up their digital wallet, and shell out money to invest in the program,” said PLDT Group, ePLDT and Smart First Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer Angel Redoble.

"To validate their claim, fraudsters even show victims supposed DTI certificates. Redoble added that a dedicated customer service representative (CSR) will privately message a customer if he or she has questions," he added.
 
The perpetrators even show supposed DTI certificates. Dedicated customer service representatives are also available to privately message victims who have additional questions, he said. 

Redoble said there could also be "co-conspirators" in the group chats who post testimonials about making money to lure others. Members are then directed to transfer money to a bank or mobile wallet to participate, he said.

The National Privacy Commission identified both Union Bank and GCash as among the payment portals used by fraudsters to collect funds.

GCash said it has rolled out "extra security" features to protect its consumers. Union Bank is yet to release a statement on the findings of the NPC.

Victims are lured to perform tasks in order to earn a commission, the telco said. Similar to a pyramid scam, the probe revealed that the syndicate was asking members to recruit relatives and friends.

“There are different membership tiers depending on the amount you shell out. The higher tiers promise bigger returns,” said Redoble.

In its attempt to prevent the scam, PLDT and Smart said they have prevented over 75,000 attempts to open phishing sites. Its rival Globe Telecom said it has been blocking numbers and messages in the fight against the scam. 

Smart said aside from blocking the messages and the mobile numbers, they were also able to identify and block IP addresses or domains linked to the scam. 

The telco said it is working with authorities and other stakeholders to put an end to the SMS-related scam. PLDT said it would report its findings to the NPC.

The NPC said it has formed an inter-agency body to beef up its efforts against the cybercrime.

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