Cyber-criminals who defraud and steal money from bank customers will be arrested, prosecuted and jailed. Thus declared the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) through its president Arnulfo Veloso as he announced the imminent signing of a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ). He said, “We are going to find you (cyber criminals) and we are going to lock you up. You will pay for your crimes.”
The BAP is also teaming up with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) in its #CYBERSECURITYX campaign, in efforts to raise public awareness and vigilance in foiling money mules and phishing.
A money mule is “someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else,” and criminals employ money mules to help launder proceeds derived from online scams, as well as more serious crimes like human trafficking and drug trafficking. Phishing is “the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.”
Cyber-crimes have intensified since the phenomenal acceleration of the use of digital platforms brought on by the lockdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Purchases of essential household groceries, medicines and hot meals, as well as payment of utility bills are now carried on mostly through digital channels. Hence, the Bangko Sentral has stepped up its financial literacy and inclusion campaign to ensure that the broadest segments of bank customers are adequately protected and that the integrity of banking transactions is safeguarded.
Aside from focusing on citizen awareness, the BAP-DOJ program will also upgrade the capability of law enforcers and prosecutors. Most basically, there are gaping holes in properly identifying the victims and the apparent perpetrators. Hence, the choke points in criminal prosecution will be cleared. Citizens will be taught and assisted in filing police reports that could be processed expeditiously. When the information provided is complete and accurate, it would be easier to file complaints that will pass muster in the criminal justice system.
The BAP is also calling for the swift enactment of the Bank Account and E-Wallet Regulation Act. Under the proposed House Bill No. 9615, those who are found guilty of phishing will be imprisoned for six to 12 years and fined amounts ranging from P200,000 to P500,000. It is also launching an anti-scam campaign on social media to enhance the banking public’s level of cyber safety awareness and cyber security.
This is especially necessary because the Philippines is regarded as a cybercrime hotspot, given the volume and prevalence of illicit activities. While not explicitly mentioned by the BAP, private industry in general, particularly the major internet service providers, plays a crucial role in stemming the tide of cybercrime, as they are primarily involved in the tracking, preservation and utilization of evidence stored in the information superhighway.
Other key law enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation also need to upgrade their capability to prevent cybercrimes and enforce laws that punish the cyber criminals.