Investigation into loan, sale of mobile wallet accounts sought – Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines —  A senator has filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the reported loan and sale of mobile wallet accounts, saying possible legislation should protect consumers from the unscrupulous activities of cybercriminals.
In a statement sent to reporters, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said government agencies should intervene in the practice of lending or selling SIM cards with verified mobile or e-wallet accounts given the number of users of these apps through the years. 
“While the use of mobile or e-wallets has provided tremendous benefits to many people such as ease of doing online transactions especially during the pandemic, we need to make sure that consumers are amply protected from harmful elements seeking dishonest gains through this channel,” the senator said.
In filing Senate Resolution No. 217, Gatchalian argued that "valuable user information these e-wallets contain which can in turn be sold at a high price when resold to the dark web," adding that "mobile wallet owners may also serve as money mules."
Gatchalian is the vice chair of the Senate committees on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies and Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship. Earlier, he also filed a resolution calling on the Senate to hold hearings on the scam texts.
This comes amid revived vigor for mandatory SIM card registration after viral accounts of widespread smishing on social media and text messaging. Senators also continue to indicate support for possible moves towards restricting or banning Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators amid the latest spate of kidnappings linked to the sector.
After the initial SIM card registration bill filed by Gatchalian was vetoed by former president Rodrigo Duterte in April, the re-filed bill has since cleared both chambers in the 19th Congress. 
In 2017, there were approximately nine million registered e-wallet accounts in the early phases of e-wallet services like GCash and PayMaya in the Philippines. But in 2020, the usage of e-wallet in the country had nearly tripled amid the pandemic=.
Consumer data provider Statista says that those numbers are projected to rise to 7.7 million registered users in the Philippines by the year 2025. 
Gatchalian said online scammers usually use e-wallet accounts not registered under their names. "They are able to do this by using or buying SIM cards in the black market that are registered with e-wallets under people who sell or lend their identities," his statement Thursday read.
"Fraudulently acquired mobile wallets may also serve as channels for money mules, those who transfer or move illegally acquired money on someone else’s behalf, including those who are unaware of larger criminal schemes…criminals often target students, the unemployed, and those on dating websites by lending or selling their mobile accounts." 
Earlier, the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group told reporters that fraudsters use such accounts in criminal activities such as money laundering and identity theft.
According to Police Lt. Michelle Sabino, PNP-ACG spokesperson, the unit's cyber patrolling has monitored rampant postings of verified GCash e-Wallet accounts for sale via Facebook Marketplace in recent months, leading to a number of arrests. 
"Let this serve as a warning to the public to protect their personal information from getting into the hands of unscrupulous individuals. Scammers use these e-wallet accounts to perpetrate their nefarious schemes while enjoying their anonymity. I am likewise encouraging the public to be watchful and immediately report any cybercrime," Police Brig. Gen. Bowenn Masauding, PNP-ACG officer-in-charge, said in a July 14 release sent to reporters. 
At the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs' hearing on the recent spate of kidnappings linked to POGOs, resource persons from the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group disclosed that digital wallets were also used to execute bets linked to e-sabong. 
This raised concerns among senators that online payment platforms and mobile wallets can also facilitate gambling activities.
Sought for comment, Digital Pinoys convenor Ronald Gustillo told Philstar.com in an online exchange that his group, a digital advocacy collective, has already received reports before that their e-money wallets were hacked or that the identity of some individuals were used to sign-up for mobile wallet service. 
"While these technological advances have given subscribers great convenience, it is unfortunate that criminals are also maximizing mobile wallet accounts for their illicit activities," he said. 
"We hope that e-money service providers give due diligence in ensuring that their platforms will not be used for illegal activities by ensuring that requirements submitted by their subscribers are legitimate."
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