Criminals have indeed taken over cyberspace. They come disguised as your average friend, a stranger, or even a genuine business partner. They send you emails that seem innocent enough to merit attention; they ask you to search for a site that seems legitimate; and before you know it, you are hooked—as well as your savings’ worth.
Such was the experience of Teresa Valera (not her real name) who lost P122,000 when she decided to purchase a Berkin Hermes bag through the online retail outlet Ebay. After an exchange of emails, the seller, who was allegedly from Davao, sent her a tracking number. The tracking number seemed legitimate since she was able to verify with the logistics company that there was indeed a package waiting for her.
However, when she went to claim it, she was mortified to find out that though the box did contain something, it was not her expensive bag but a lousy shirt probably worth P100.
What made it worse was that during the course of their email conversations, she had also entrusted the seller with a Goyard bag worth P52,000 for her to sell, which eventually was “lost in the mail.”
“We tried to trace the location of the seller through account numbers and account verification,” says Inspector Robert Reyes, In-charge of the Cyber Crime Investigation Section, Cyber Crime Unit, Anti-Trans National Crime Division at CIDG in Camp Crame, who first gave assistance to Valera. “Unfortunately, it became quite difficult for us to trace the whereabouts of the seller.”
The case even took an interesting twist when he and his team learned through an account verification that the seller withdrew money in Cebu. With that new development, Insp. Reyes likened this case to one in which three people were involved in the transactions —one victim and two perpetrators in two different locations. However, he couldn’t prove just yet whether it was indeed a similar case.
“So we next tried to file a case in violation of the money laundering act,” he says. “Unfortunately, Theresa’s case wasn’t covered by this act because of a term known as predicate offense, which covers only specific cases.”
A few months after the incident, the seller’s identity is still being verified with the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to Insp. Reyes. To no avail.
Crime in Cyberspace
The chances of catching cyber criminals are very slim due to the fact that just about anyone can use the Net to perpetrate illegal acts. New things on the Web have even made it easier for offenders to commit their crime. Take for example the emergence of social networking sites, such as Facebook, where your information such as email addresses, photos, and mobile and landline numbers can be easily extracted.
According to Insp. Reyes, this is definitely the Budol-Budol gang of the 21st century. “The criminals are really difficult to trace because they can turn up in one place and then in another—and some have more than a few members so the investigation sometimes gets muddy,” he says. “And their victims become diverse, from OFWs to children, and men and women alike.”
So what are the ways to counter criminals preying on people online?
“Research and learn more about these people and whoever you are dealing with,” says Sonnie Santos, founder and managing director of Web Safety Philippines. “Take care of your computer, too. If you are using the Net in a public place, avoid doing bank transactions, purchasing goods, or accessing your official or company email accounts. Or, if you can’t help it, delete any transactions—even Facebook surfing—by using the history button. Delete the cookies and the cache as well. Otherwise, someone can tap your transactions just as easily as steal your identity, learn more about you and your loved ones, and then do some alleged businesses with you.
“Because of these cyber crimes, professionals should get acquainted with technology,” Sonnie says. “This means understanding how it works because once you do, you would know the risks, the tips and even discover some safety precautions in the process.”
Laws on Cyber Crimes
Unfortunately, there aren’t specific laws to cover such crimes in the Internet. “There is actually nothing to regulate these misbehaviors,” says Insp. Reyes.
Republic Act 8792 is the nearest there is. The law gives legal recognition to electronic documents, contracts and signature (section 6-13); authorities and parties with the legal right can gain access to electronic documents, electronic data messages, and electronic signatures. Sections 31 and 32 state that for confidentiality purposes, it shall not share or convey to any other person. Section 33 continues that hacking or cracking, which refers to unauthorized access including the introduction of computer viruses, is punishable by a fine ranging from 100 thousand to maximum commensuration to the damage, and with imprisonment from 6 months to 3 years. Piracy through the use of telecommunication networks, such as the Internet, that infringes intellectual property rights is punishable. The penalties are the same as hacking.
While purchasing online may be convenient, here are just a few reminders to guide you when transacting in the Net:
Research. Research all the information about the person you deal with, including the real name, phone numbers, email addresses, and contact details. If you are not able to get this information, then chances are you are dealing with an impostor.
Don’t transact outside Ebay. Ebay receives payment through Paypal. When the seller asks you to pay through another means, be wary. And when you do, pay other than what Ebay prescribes as authorized. The online store ceases to have any responsibility over your payment.
Do “offline” store purchases. It’s the most logical thing to do. You can see the products up front, see the defects, and you can choose whatever goods you want. Plus, you are issued a receipt so your purchases can be easily returned or exchanged.
First published in the Modus Operandi section of Volume 1 Issue No.5 of SecurityMatters Magazine – Print Edition