Fraudsters now use group chats to fleece money from victims, according to PLDT Inc. and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) cybersecurity teams.
Links found in newer scam text messages direct customers to group chats in the messaging application WhatsApp, the teams discovered.
PLDT and Smart information security agents believe that the group chat administrators are part of the syndicate who could be locals operating in the Philippines.
Scammers claim to be representatives of a popular Japanese department store chain looking to invest in the country.
“They’re herding potential victims into one group chat where they explain the supposed job or income opportunity,” explained Angel Redoble, FVP and Chief Information Security Officer of the PLDT Group, ePLDT and Smart.
As with previous engagements, the fraudsters will ask customers to sign up on the syndicate’s platform, link up their digital wallet, and shell out money to invest in the program.
To validate their claims, fraudsters even show victims supposed DTI certificates. A dedicated customer service representative (CSR) even privately messages a customer to answer questions.
“Before disabling the chat function, the administrators will advise customers to refer to their assigned CSRs for guidance,” Redoble noted.
Cybersecurity experts from PLDT and Smart also discovered another group chat targeting newcomers.
Scam operators in both groups follow the same script often used by marketers in Ponzi schemes to lure potential victims.
“We believe that some members in the chat who post testimonials about making money from these investments are co-conspirators,” he added.
Victims are then instructed to transfer the initial amount to a mobile wallet or a bank account to begin participating into the scheme.
Once hooked, victims are asked to complete tasks by purchasing items, clicking links or watching YouTube videos to earn commissions.
Likened to a digital pyramid scheme, PLDT and Smart investigations revealed that, in both groups, fraudsters encourage members to bring in friends and relatives to boost their payout.
“There are different membership tiers depending on the amount you shell out. The higher tiers promise bigger returns,” Redoble warned.
PLDT and Smart have intensified efforts against the scam preventing more than 75,000 attempts to open the phishing sites.
“These domains are no longer accessible to Smart customers. We are closely watching this fraudulent activity so we can further beef up our cyber defenses and protect customers from getting scammed,” assured Redoble.
PLDT and Smart continue to engage government authorities and other stakeholders to put an end to the SMS-initiated investment scam. The group is set to report its recent findings to the National Privacy Commission.