BICOL Saro Partylist Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan has urged the Senate to swiftly act on its counterpart measure that aims to impose stiff penalties against digital financial fraud, following reports about the proliferation of fake bank and e-wallet advisories sent by scammers.
Yamsuan said these scams have become so prevalent that banks have resorted to sending numerous messages to their clients through text, emails and even Viber warning them about these deceptive schemes.
After phishing, in which scammers use fake emails and links to trick potential victims into revealing their personal and financial data, these fraudsters have now resorted to smishing, or sending bogus text messages, and vishing or making fraudulent calls—both with the same purpose as phishing, Yamsuan said.
Yamsuan said consumers need to be protected from these fraudulent tactics through the passage of the proposed Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act (AFASA), which the House of Representatives already passed in May this year under House Bill (HB) 7393.
“On top of providing a shield of protection to consumers, the AFASA will also help safeguard the integrity of our financial system. We urge the Senate to pass its version of the AFASA to assure the public that they can continue to trust our financial system as we go forth with our inevitable shift to a digital economy,” said Yamsuan, one of the authors of the House measure.
Yamsuan recalled that mobile wallet providers and telecommunications companies have been urging the Congress to fast-track the approval of the AFASA.
While the House of Representatives has already passed its version of the AFASA, the Senate’s counterpart measure remains pending at the committee level.
The House version provides heavy penalties against online scams perpetrated on a large scale. Under the bill, if the online scam is committed by a syndicate (defined as a group of three or more persons); done in large scale; or using a mass mailer, such crimes are classified as acts of economic sabotage punishable with life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P1 million to P5 million.
Yamsuan said cases of deceptive tactics employed by cybercriminals could increase this coming holiday season and spill over to online shopping sites where people could fall prey to fake websites that allow scammers to get hold of the details of their victims’ credit cards of bank accounts, Yamsuan said.
He also pointed out that since the implementation of the SIM Registration Act, there have been reports of individuals lending or selling their registered SIM cards, e-wallet accounts and bank accounts to scammers.
Under HB 7393, these seemingly harmless acts of acting as money mules to perpetrate scams are punishable with imprisonment of six months and one day to six years (prison correccional), or a fine ranging from P100,000 to P200,000, or both.
Persons perpetrating social engineering schemes, such as phishing, vishing or smishing, are penalized under the bill with imprisonment of six years and one day to 12 years (prision mayor), or a fine of at least P200,000 but not exceeding P500,000, or both. The maximum penalty shall be imposed if the victims include senior citizens aged 60 years old or above.
E-wallet provider GCash has reported that from January 2022 to June 2023, it has already blocked 4 million accounts from accessing its platform on suspicion of fraud.
PLDT reported that last year, it has blocked more than 17 billion attempts to access malicious domains and blacklisted 5.5 million domains used in phishing, spam and other hoax activities.
Some 433 million text messages containing phishing sites were also blocked, in addition to more than 400,000 mobile numbers found to be engaged in illegal activities, according to PLDT.