Text scammers may have used contact-tracing data, NTC exec says

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2022 03:37 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2022 05:22 PM

MANILA — Data from COVID-19 contact-tracing could have been used in the recent surge of personalized spam text messages, a National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) official said on Friday. 

Some Filipinos recently raised concern on scam text messages mentioning phone users' full names. 

Asked if personal information in the spam messages could have come from contact-tracing modes, NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said, "Mayroon pong posibilidad." 

"Para ma-trace ka, naroon ang personal information mo et cetera, so may posibilidad po 'yan... These are possible sources ng breaches," he said in a televised public briefing. 

(There is a possibility. In order for you to be traced, your personal information should be there, et cetera, so there is a possibility.) 

Contact-tracing efforts in the Philippines saw the public entrusting their personal information to establishments and the national government through paper-based forms or digital apps, especially when tighter restrictions against COVID-19 were still in place.

The NTC is coordinating with the National Privacy Commission, which is investigating the proliferation of scam-linked SMS, Cabarios said. 

"Dapat po kasi may maparusahan dito kasi may nag-leak ng information," he said. 

"Hindi naman pupuwede na saan-saan lang kinuha 'yan. Mayroon pong nag-leak ng information kasi bakit 'yung telephone number, mayroong pangalan? Kung telephone number lang puwedeng sabihin na... random pero ito may pangalan eh." 

(Someone should be punished here because information was leaked. It couldn't have come from just anywhere. Otherwise, why would the names be there? If it's just the phone number, it could still be considered random, but these messages already contain names.) 

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Cabarios urged the public and telcos to block scam-linked mobile numbers. 

"Ang una dapat ay walang mag-accept, dapat walang paloloko. Kasi kung walang paloloko, walang kikitain 'yang mga 'yan," he said. 

(First of all, no one should accept, believe those messages. If no one is duped, they wouldn't make money.) 

The official said it was also important to pass a law on SIM card registration so that government could trace and prosecute people those involved in fraud or spamming. 

Former President Rodrigo Duterte had vetoed a version of the proposed law, saying further studies were needed due to its social media provision. 

Section 2 of the bill states, "The State shall require the registration of SIM Cards for electronic devices and social media accounts by all users."

But Cabarios said, "Mas mabuti irehistro ang lahat ng SIM card na ginagamit. Makakabawas nang malaki sa mga gustong gumawa ng hindi maganda sa ating mga kababayan." 

(It is better if all SIM cards will be registered. This will greatly reduce those who have bad intentions using these numbers.) 

The NTC recently asked telco companies to “text blast” subscribers an advisory against text scams from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6. The telco firms were also directed to “accelerate the process of blocking SIM cards that are being utilized to perpetrate these fraudulent activities.”

Filipinos have been reporting an increase in SMS-based scams or smishing, especially during the pandemic, when digital adoption also accelerated.