Online fraud and online dispute resolution

Reported cases of online fraud have been growing . There has been a spate  of Internet scam and fake  online bookings, including heartbreaking cases of a purchased laptop which  turned out to be a stone after the package was opened, and a purchased cell phone  turning out into wooden  blocks. We have  also read about delivery riders victimized by   fake bookings and  illegal drugs  being sold  online.

  I submitted the position paper of Laban Konsyumer Inc. on these concerns upon the invitation of the Committee on Trade and Industry of Congress in connection with its investigation in aid of legislation.

    These  reported  cases are  acts of  fraud, deceit, scam, concealment, deceptive sales practice,  misrepresentation and sale of   illegal drugs committed by  the perpetrators through   the use of  information and communication technology such as  the internet and mobile phones,  electronic messages and electronic documents. These acts   are    punishable as violations of the Revised Penal Code, Consumer Act of the Philippines, Food and Drug Act and   the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

   Thus , all  persons involved  in the online transaction done through the use of internet , computers , gadget or mobile phones , who acted either as  principals, accomplices and/or   accessories are indispensable parties and responsible to the consumers and victims. Their violations are penalized under the terms of the above -captioned laws. To be more specific , “persons “  include the owners and administrators of online sites and applications which were used as the exclusive  medium in the commercial transactions, manufacturers, importers, distributors, suppliers and sellers of goods and services.

Where can government help?  

Government will be helping the consumers who have been victimized by the practices in online commerce if it provides a fast and reliable redress mechanism where consumers can file his complaint and receive resolution through the medium of electronic messages or electronic documents.

With the exponential growth of online commerce in our country  (reportedly the fastest growing in  the region) and as  consumers become more aware of their rights in addressing  their grievances, there has been a considerable increase in the number of consumer complaints.  Thus, there is a need to provide a redress mechanism that is readily available to the consumers at any time and at  any place. The key words here are “ readily available,”  meaning that the  redress mechanism must be accessible, easy-to-use and real-time online.

In line with this suggestion, I note   the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Administrative  Order setting up the general guidelines for the development of the Philippine Online Dispute  Resolution System  ( PODRS ) .

There is  an urgent need to fast-track the development and implementation  of the PODRS, which will  serve as the web-based consumer complaint portal of the country. This is  where the  consumer can file complaints and seek redress in relation to product purchased or service availed either offline or online  from a business establishment or platform located in the Philippines.

The knowledge that a facility like the PODRS is available will increase consumer  confidence because consumers will  know they can now communicate their grievances regarding violations or possible dangers to their welfare, particularly when the facility comes with the assurance that these concerns will be directly handled by the DTI and other relevant government agencies.

It is very important, however, that the DTI places a very strict timeframe towards the development and roll out of the PODRS. The PODRS cannot be allowed to remain merely a concept. The pandemic’s lockdowns and extended quarantines as well as the new protocols resulting there from are the conditions prevailing in our country now and are spurring the growth of online commerce and the accompanying incidents of online fraud . I  am confident that the sooner the  PODRS is  in place, the sooner consumer confidence will be enhanced.

I  suggest that  the PODRS   should include an integrated national online system where  all consumer complaints are received, docketed, transmitted, and resolved. This will  provide a network facility for the tracking, ageing, and status updating of cases and prescribing standards and limits of disclosure of data to maintain integrity and credibility of the system. To ensure that there are  checks and balances when executing and implementing such a system,   we  consumers , and the consumer groups among us,  are ready to  act as watchdogs as the system  is being rolled out, to ensure that the rollout is  achieved effectively, efficiently, successfully and on time.  

In conclusion, the PODRS and the Online or Internet Transactions bills currently pending in the House and the Senate, can, when enacted, cover the gaps and voids in existing online transactions and strengthen   the level of protection   consumers   should be enjoying when using electronic messages   or electronic documents  in the purchase of goods and services. This is the level of protection given to consumers using the traditional modes of commerce such as face to face transactions and transactions based on written contracts. The online consumer is entitled to no less than the same protection.

Atty. Vic Dimagiba is President of   Laban Konsyumer Inc.

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