March 24, 2023

Bicol Express News

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A double edge sword; SIM registration meant to prevent scams but now also tool for scheme

Bicol Express News photo

The government said that the Republic Act 11934 or the SIM Registration Act which was said to be the way to stop the proliferation of scams via text, but since the listing began last December 27, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) warned subscribers new dubious schemes related to the mandated registration of SIM cards.

As of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, January. 10, NTC reported that based on their latest data, there are already 17,115,910 SIM cards, or 10.13% of the 168,977,773 existing cards in the Philippines had been registered.

Smart Communications Inc. (Smart) reported that they already registered 8,037,862 SIM cards, while Globe Telecom Inc. (Globe) has 7,556,037, while DITO Telecommunity Corp. (DITO) has listed 1,522,011.

The latest registration figures is a huge jump from the previous 3,319,005 registered SIM cards in the first two days of the mandated registration last year; Smart (1,019,207), Globe (1,769,374), and DITO (530,424).

NTC said that Smart has already registered 11.82% of its 67,995,734 subscribers, while Globe’s 7,556,037 registered SIM cards translated to 8.60% of its 87,873,936 subscribers. DITO, on the other hand, listed 11.61% of its 13,108,103 subscribers.

Although the registration numbers continued to increase, the NTC and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) issued serious warnings against new fraud activities that potentially duped subscribers who intend to register their SIM cards.

In a statement last Dec. 23, the DICT said there were alleged email messages supposedly sent by telecommunications companies to their subscribers regarding the SIM Registration Act, which was implemented starting on Dec. 27. The email messages tell subscribers with registered accounts with their provider’s virtual and mobile payment applications that their accounts are being restricted in line with the law and will only be reactivated through a supposed pre-registration process.

However, the DICT and NTC cautioned the public on the email messages, pointing out that subscribers should not give their personal details to the senders or click on links included.

On January 11, the NTC reported that there are some individuals online who are asking for supposed fees in return for assistance in SIM card registration, but “the public should not engage with them.”

NTC reiterated that the subscribers should be careful in dealing with these scammers, saying that providing personal details to someone can lead to identity theft, hacking of mobile banking applications, and other cybercrimes.

The SIM card registration listing requires the registrant to provide his or her name, age, address, mobile number, photo, and a government issued identification (ID) card, like passport, driver’s license, and voter’s ID.

Pursuant to Section 6 RA 11934, NTC said that the registration shall be implemented at no cost to end-users and at the same time, telcos are tasked to ensure that all data is secure and protected. Moreover, the SIM card registration assistance services will be made available at retail and service centers of the telecommunications companies.

One of the latest NTC advisory is about registered SIM cards being sold in the black market; they urged the public not to buy any pre-registered cards.

Jon Paulo Salvahan, NTC Deputy Commissioner in an interview said that the person registered for the SIM card will be the one liable in case the card was used for crimes.

Meanwhile, an alliance of digital experts and consumers said the NTC should have seen these new fraudulent schemes coming.

According to Maded Batara III, spokesperson of the Junk SIM Registration Network “We have been saying repeatedly that this SIM registration law is not the solution to scams because scammers will always find a way to steal people’s information and scam people’s money.”

Batara told reporters last Friday that “We hope that the NTC will now listen to the concerns of privacy and information technology experts and reconsider the implementation of the law,”

He said that “the amount of information that we have to give to the telecommunications companies, and how this information can be used for nefarious purposes when placed in the wrong hands, is one of the major reasons why we need to call to junk the SIM registration law in the first place.” 

The alliance network recently held a protest action at the NTC to call for the suspension of the law because of “glaring violations to data privacy two weeks into its implementation.”

“We also must continue to be vigilant regarding measures that violate the right of the people to privacy. We cannot let our personal information fall into the hands of those who will use it for profit or to scam the people,” Batara said.

But despite the problems, both the DICT and NTC said that the government remains optimistic that the registration of SIM cards, which will last until April 26, will be successful.

Communications and Technology Undersecretary Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo said “Our aim is to register at least one million SIMs every day. Currently, we are on track, but there could be a lull, and then a surge again once we are near the deadline,”

She said telcos are continuously improving their registration processes to ensure a smooth listing experience for end-users.

It would be recalled that Sen. Grace Poe, the chairperson of the Senate public services committee, said that the government and telcos must ensure that registration will be convenient.

“The SIM registration should be as easy as texting or sending a message,” the senator said.