ANOTHER senator has joined the urgent call for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and National Privacy Commission (NPC) to stem the surge of cyber-security attacks through spam messages, mostly targeting jobseekers.

Senator Imee Marcos pressed for quick action, saying on Tuesday: “We have to get to the bottom of this soon,” and noted it was “now more than a month since these incidents were reported.”

The day before, Sen. Joel Villanueva prodded the NPC to go after the perpetrators of the “epidemic of ‘text scams’ particularly the kind in which cell phone numbers are barraged with job ads or offers.” He called it the “new budol in town.”

On Tuesday, responding to his call, the NPC said in a media briefing there were indications that the groups behind the text scam epidemic belong to a big international syndicate.

Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee, noted how social media has been flooded with complaints of duped citizens who were “bombarded with job offers or sales work that promises huge commissions.”

He worries that “in a nation where unemployment and digital disinformation are high, these kinds of messages can mislead many.”

For her part, Senator Marcos was keen to know, “how these smishers get hold of everyone’s mobile numbers?”

Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, stressed the need for concerned authorities to quickly neutralize perpetrators of the scam called “smishing,” or SMS phishing—a fraudulent practice of enticing people via text messages or mobile data apps to disclose sensitive personal data like passwords or credit card numbers, usually by offering employment, prizes, or discounts.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 prohibits, she noted, “unsolicited commercial communications” that disguise the source of electronic messages and are sent without the recipient’s prior consent.

Although telcos have released advisories on how to handle these spam messages, Marcos warns this is “not enough to put an end to the problem.”

She suggested that NTC and NPC, together with telco companies, banks, and online shopping platforms should “develop a system that can block these spam messages so that no one could receive them.”

Meanwhile, Marcos stressed the need to “stop the careless collection of mobile phone numbers for contact tracing purposes by requiring people to list them down on an open information sheet” before being allowed to enter banks, supermarkets, and other business establishments.

She warned that “this practice exposes the public to scammers,” suggesting that businesses must also find a way to do contact tracing more privately, “especially for those whose mobile phones have no app to generate QR codes.”

‘Do Not Call Registry’ law

The NPC’s effort, together with telcos, to strategize how text spams can be tripped from the carrier’s end is just one of several ways to stop unwanted SMS, Villanueva said.

“Any action from NPC is an administrative remedy. We need legislation and prohibition. A permanent solution requires three legs to stand on,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee.

One option is to pass the No Call, No Text, and No E-mail Registration System Act, which establishes a system of registries for subscribers who shun promotional, solicitation and marketing messages.

“The right of cellphone users not to be disturbed should be legislated,” Villanueva said. The bill will not only respect consumers’ privacy, but compel marketing arms of companies to adopt responsible business practices

There should be a law that prohibits non-registered numbers using an automatic dialer or any electronic device that can blast messages to telephone numbers, he said.

The House of Representatives in August this year passed on third and final reading House Bill 9608, or the proposed No Call, No Text, and No E-mail Registration System Act. The measure has been transmitted to the Senate.

With the pandemic fueling the surge in e-commerce, solicitations are now done online, round the clock, “and one of its variants, robo texts, target a highly-saleable commodity: jobs needed by desperate people,” Villanueva said.

While Congress works on this bill, the government, he said, should go after smugglers of banned text blast machines, a portal device that can transmit up to 100,000 texts an hour.

These machines work by tapping nearby cell towers or function as portable cell sites that can send out messages in bulk but not receive them.

The importation, manufacture, sale and distribution of such equipment are prohibited by the NTC through Memorandum Order 01-02-2013 — “Prohibition of Portable Cellular Mobile Repeater and Portable Cell Site Equipment.”

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