Smart warns against text scammers

September 10, 2010 9:14 am 

MANILA, Sept. 9 — Smart Communications Inc. on Thursday warned the public to be vigilant against fraudulent texts or calls that ask for "emergency money" from abroad as inflow of remittances are expected to rise in time for the Christmas season.

The country's largest mobile phone provider said scammers usually target families or relatives of overseas Filipino workers or those who receive regular remittances from abroad.

Senders of hoax texts usually claim to be family members, relatives or friends of family members and relatives.

Government data showed that more than eight million Filipinos, out of a population of 90 million, work abroad.

The central bank said 761,836 Filipinos left the country to work in the first seven months, a 28.2-percent increase over the same period last year.

The bulk of the latest remittances came from Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

Ramon R. Isberto, Smart public affairs group head, said the unscrupulous person pretend to be a family member or relative and ask victims to deposit a certain amount of money to various bank or money accounts.

"The money is supposed to help them [unscrupulous person] during an emergency situation, such as escaping from a cruel employer by buying a ticket to go home, or money for immediate medical attention, or treatment for an accident,” Isberto said.

“Since the initial reaction is almost always to help, fraud victims send money immediately, without confirming the facts with their family member or relative first. When they realize they’ve been victimized by a scam, it’s too late,” he said.

To avoid falling victim to scammers and losing hard-earned money, Isberto said text messages or calls from unknown cellphone numbers should be double-checked and confirmed.

Data from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) showed that text scam complaints reached 776 cases from January to June this year as against 844 in the same period last year.

Text scam is a hoax SMS (short message service) from unscrupulous mobile phone users.

In 2009, a total of 1,261 cases were reported as against 925 in 2008.

Isberto also said that the public should also be wary of “friendly” inquiries by new acquaintances about family members, home situations, and details about an OFW relative or family member’s employment abroad.

“The first step for the gang is ‘getting to know you’. With the information they gather, they plot how to dupe victims. Then the syndicate calls or texts a family member and pretends to be any of the following – a manning agency (for seafarers), a Philippine consul or embassy staff, or a colleague of the OFW,” Isberto said.

Then the scammers will present various scenarios that supposedly happened to OFWs – conflict with bosses that led to physical injuries or being sent to jail; losing a cellphone or changing the mobile number and trying the prepaid load business for extra income, among others, he said.

“Then they will ask for money to be deposited to bank or e-money or other remittance accounts,” he said.

“As we said in our previous advisories, we urge our subscribers to be wary text messages or calls from unknown cellphone numbers that ask for load or money, or even promise rewards. Always confirm first with those you personally know before sending money,” Isberto said.

The NTC earlier said that text scammers are hard to identify because they could easily switch from one number to another or can use multiple numbers.

Prepaid SIM cards, unlike the post-paid SIM cardholders, can be bought without any identification requirements for as low as P10.

The NTC advised subscribers to call the agency or the Department of Trade and Industry to report text scams for the two agencies to be able to block the subscribers’ numbers.

The commission could only block the number used in the hoax, not trace the identity of the owner of the SIM (subscriber identification module) card. (PNA) RMA/DGA/mec

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