Xy Aldrae Murillo

While the registration of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards aims to enhance their security and reduce vulnerability to hackers, users now face threats as digital scammers upgrade from using text messages to utilizing messaging apps in their scamming operations, and can even successfully register fake identities as tested by different information technology groups.

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay/Philstar/EC Toledo

Recently, Nap Castillo, Manager of Systems Engineering of Fortinet Philippines, explained that some scammers adapt and shift to online messaging platforms during the conduct of SIM registration to attack users who have registered their SIM cards during a briefing of the company’s latest study, “FortiGuard Labs 1H 2023 Global Threat Landscape Report” in Makati City on September 21.

In the report, Castillo revealed that there are rising trends in online scams and other cybercrimes and that some scammers have adapted and shifted to using online messaging platforms in their operations.

“That’s why even with this SIM card registration that we already have, the cybercriminals actually transfer to over-the-top applications like WhatsApp and Viber. Doon tayo na-ka-kareceive ng scams. Nawala na [iyong] sa SMS,” he added, reasoning the difference between mobile networks and IT networks can put registered mobile numbers at a disadvantage after being registered.

Earlier this September, reports by a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team and an information technology expert also revealed that animals, anime, and cartoon characters can successfully register a SIM card without getting barred.

“We entered the face of an animal in different names, [ngunit] natanggap pa rin,” NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Attorney Jeremy Lotoc said the night before the Senate Committee on Public Services hearing on September 5, explaining that they entered the face of a monkey and it passed the registration process.

Lotoc stated that this only proves that anyone could still register using fraudulent identities even though the implementation of SIM registration law aimed to offer more security among users. 

A week later, Information Technology expert Mike Santos also revealed on September 14 that anime and cartoon characters can pass the SIM card registration just the same as how regular Filipinos register their SIM cards.

Based on his test in a press conference hosted by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), he was able to register a Globe SIM card in less than three minutes using the fictional character "Bart Simpson" from the animated sitcom "The Simpsons,” and using a Smart SIM utilizing the face and name of "One Piece" anime character "Monkey D. Luffy"

PAOCC Undersecretary Gilbert Cruz cited this as the reason for the creation of pre-recorded SIM cards generated by independent contractors or those associated with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in sending text scams and spams to registered phone numbers, saying that there are contractors doing SIM registrations and there are different types of contractors depending on what the scammers need.

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe filed a resolution to examine the continued spread of text scams and the usage of SIM cards in alleged unlawful operations of POGOs, as it is “almost a year since the law has passed and despite the termination of existing SIM registration, text scams and other mobile-related frauds continue to proliferate.”

The senator stated in her Resolution No. 745 the "Proliferation of Text Scams and the Reported Use of SIMs in Illegal POGO Operations" that she wants to ensure that the SIM Registration Act's objectives are rigorously met.

Edited by Xhiela Mie Cruz