Solon hopes new bill’s signing will deter use of money mules

AS the Philippines has emerged as one of the countries at highest risk of web threats, a senior lawmaker said local regulators and lawmen will be better armed with more powers in flushing out cybercriminals involved in phishing and other online scams.

According to Luis Raymund Villafuerte, the expected signing into law of a congressional bill on more protection for financial consumers “couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time than now when the Philippines, in a report by cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky Security Network [KSN], has been tagged as one of the countries most targeted by web threats.”

Local banks have also been telling their clients to avoid giving access to their accounts to third parties, given that this act—known as money muling—is a crime punishable under the Anti-Money Laundering Act as it enables cybercriminals to use these bank accounts to transfer funds from illegal sources, said Villafuerte in a statement at the weekend.

Fraudsters and scammers offer P1,000 to P5,000 to buy or use the legitimate bank accounts of people that they then use to launder money, the lawmaker added.

Villafuerte is the co-author of the congressional enrolled bill now awaiting President Duterte’s signature that imposes penalties against money muling and phishing or any other social engineering schemes.

He said cybercriminals have flourished under the pandemic as social distancing protocols have dramatically increased the volume of online transactions to avoid face-to-face interactions.

For Villafuerte, “Covid-19 has presented new opportunities for cybercriminal exploitation, including remote work, virtual crime and persistent threats.”

Although banks have increased their efforts to address cybercrimes, and consumers have also become  increasingly vigilant  against such offenses,  Villafuerte said the Philippines still has no law against the use of financial accounts as accessory to financial crimes.

“Worse, there is no punishment that can deter these criminal actions,” said Villafuerte, an advocate of the country’s digital switch even prior to the 2020   outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Villafuerte said Filipinos are to benefit soon from this congressional  measure that aims to  empower the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the rest of the banking community to better protect financial consumers against phishing and other online scams.

“We are hopeful that President Duterte will sign this measure into law as it aims to regulate the use of bank accounts and electronic wallets and consider certain illegal financial acts related to their use as a form of economic sabotage and a heinous crime if done on a large scale,” Villafuerte said.

In January, reports from the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) claimed that about 20 to 40 teachers  lost between P26,000 and P121,000 each from their allegedly “hacked” LandBank accounts, but the lender claimed that its systems were safe and secure and that these teachers had actually fallen prey to a phishing scheme.

Also last January, three Filipinos and a Nigerian were indicted by the DOJ for the hacking attack that victimized in early December about 700 bank customers who reportedly lost as much as P50,000 each through unauthorized transfers from their bank accounts.

Villafuerte said the bill prohibits the opening of a bank account, an e-wallet account or other financial account under a fictitious name or using the identity or identification documents of another to receive or transfer or withdraw proceeds derived from crimes or offenses.

The measure also seeks to penalize any person performing any phishing or social engineering schemes by slapping a term of life imprisonment and a fine of P1 million to P5 million on those found guilty of cyber offenses that constitute economic sabotage.

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