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EDITORIAL — New war room

Cybercrime-related cases nationwide have surged by 400 percent this year compared to the same period in 2022, the Department of Justice reported yesterday. The most common cybercrime cases, according to a DOJ official, involve love, investment and tax scams as well as phishing.

The actual figure is likely much higher, since many people don’t know how or don’t bother to report cybercrime cases. Whether the spike is 400 percent or higher, however, people wonder if the country has the capability to fight this menace, or if there is even sufficient awareness of the problem among those who are supposed to man the front lines.

Among the first laws signed by President Marcos was Republic Act 11934, the SIM Registration Act, which was enacted on Oct. 10 last year. The implementing rules and regulations of RA 11934 came out on Dec. 27, and mandatory SIM registration was carried out until July 30 this year. Deactivation of unregistered Subscriber Identity Modules began shortly. Telecommunications companies reported that nearly 114 million of the 168 million SIM cards in circulation nationwide were registered; the rest, or over 54 million were deactivated.  

SIM registration, however, does not cover overseas numbers as well as online messaging apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Telegram. The Philippine National Police reported that scammers acquire inactive SIM cards and use these to capture one-time passwords or OTP for entry into Viber, WhatsApp and Telegram. These SIM cards, the PNP pointed out, remain dormant until registered, allowing the user to accept incoming calls and text messages using Wi-Fi connectivity, but restricting outbound communication. Some people with multiple SIM cards also sold the excess to scammers, the PNP reported.

Following the deactivation of unregistered SIMs, the PNP noted an initial decline of about 50 percent in the number of digital fraud cases. Whether the decline will continue remains to be seen. The DOJ report tells another story. Globe Telecom also said it blocked approximately 2.2 billion messages found to be linked to scam attempts in the first six months of 2023.

Other countries have set up the equivalent of special war rooms to fight