Amid COVID, overseas Filipinos must intensify vigilance against online scams  

OFW Forum 

Jun Concepcion

The COVID-19 pandemic may be easing in the Philippines and elsewhere, but online scammers are oblivious as they appear to be stepping up their bid to cheat  overseas Filipinos.

Numerous investment offers are being made online to overseas Filipinos to lure them into investing in a wide range of alluring products and services including beauty-enhancing products, health supplements and high-yielding investment instruments. These offers have a common goal: persuade overseas Filipinos to fork out investible funds and their savings into alluring products and investments no matter how murky they are.

Sadly and rightly or wrongly, overseas Filipinos seem to be regarded as easy and gullible con targets. This view is not entirely unfounded amid the continuing incidence of failed or soured investments reported in the traditional and social media.

Cases in point are an ex-OFW in Saudi Arabia amassed an undetermined amount of money from victims from that country and other parts of Middle East. The scam that he perpetrated was simple and straightforward, thereby boosting its mass appeal to unsophisticated investors. He offered a 10 percent monthly return on investments and it was gobbled up hook, line and sinker and it served as a sure-fire clincher. He quickly generated large amounts of investments from OFWs across the Middle East and even in the Philippines. After operating for about a year in Saudi Arabia, he closed down his office there, flew back home and disappeared into thin air. Complaints filed with the National Bureau of Investigation appear to be getting nowhere and efforts to locate and prosecute him appear to have gone cold.

Another case in point is a male Filipino office worker in Hong Kong who received separate online friendship propositions from two young and pretty women from China. Shortly thereafter, both women took turns enticing him to invest and make big money quickly in Hong Kong's stock market by sending money to them.  Both women used Whatsapp, the most popular social media in the Chinese city.   

Because he is an off-and-on stocks investor, he promptly rebuffed both women after realizing that he was being lured into a honey trap likely to inflict a financial loss from a bogus investment.

What makes overseas Filipinos easy and convenient targets of online scammers? Let me count the ways. First off, the lucrative 10 million plus overseas Filipino community sends home an average of US$30 billion every year via formal banking and informal channels. Second, many OFWs have little or no clue or even rudimentary education on investments. Third, there is no reasonably adequate government mechanism to protect Filipino investors, both overseas and those in the country, against scammers. Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) nor the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), as well as the Insurance Commission (IC), has any effective mechanism to educate and protect investors from getting scammed. Except for occasional cautionary posts in their respective websites, the three agencies do not have pro-active and aggressive campaigns and programs to educate investors and prosecute investment scammers.

What should overseas Filipinos and those in the country do to avoid putting hard-earned money into dubious but lucrative-looking investments?

Several simple things can be done which can go a very long way to avoid getting scammed. Investors should do the following before entrusting hard-earned money to investment companies.

1) Conduct due diligence
Check the credentials of the investment company and its representative. Does it have a website which sets out clearly its business address, company officers and adequate description of its business operations? If there are doubts or questions on whether the company is operating legally under Philippine laws, why risk investing money in this company in the first instance?

2) Conduct a simple Google search
Are there adverse media reports about the company and/or its officers? If so, better play safe and defer any investment. 

3) Check with relevant government regulatory agencies
If in doubt or unclear on the legitimacy of an investment company and its offerings, check and call or email the SEC, DTI or IC in Manila. Problems or hardships calling and getting through government agencies in Manila? Nothing surprising. Be persistent and patient.

4) If in doubt, seek advice and guidance from knowledgeable family members and even service-minded NGOs or individuals, including this writer or OFM TV YouTube channel and Facebook page which both provide free investment advice.

 5) In case of unease or doubts, exercise extreme caution
Better still, hold back that contemplated investment until you fully understand what you’re getting into. Once you let go of your money, getting it back from a scammer can very well become a Tom Cruise-like Mission Impossible.    

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