Cyber crime

This Valentine’s season, beware of love scams too

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

This Valentine’s season, beware of love scams too

Illustration by Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

Interior chief Benhur Abalos says scammers study their victims' interests and personalities, like their music taste or even sports interests, to be closer to their targets

MANILA, Philippines – Please be careful with your hearts and pockets this Valentine’s season as Philippine authorities warned about alarming cases of love scams.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) chief Benhur Abalos said it’s not a “remote possibility” that scammers and syndicates would use the Valentine’s season to look for their victims. Love scam is a type of crime where “scammers typically create fake online profiles designed to lure target or victims” to extort money from them.

The said scheme is categorized by law enforcers under swindling or estafa, which makes up the biggest number of cybercrime cases recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP). Below are the top 5 cybercrimes in the Philippines, based on the PNP’s latest data.

A separate PNP data, quoted by a Philippine News Agency (PNA) report, said 168 cases of love scams had been recorded in the past year.

Abalos said scammers study their victims’ interests and personalities, like their music taste or even sports interests. Among the common targets were those lovesick or people who had recently lost their loved ones, the interior chief added.

The DILG secretary said that once scammers gained their target’s trust, the scammers would start asking for money, gifts, or banking/credit card information as “proof of their love.” There were also instances where the syndicates would ask private photos from their victims, “which they will then use to blackmail the person into giving them money in exchange for not leaking the materials online,” Abalos added.

And then, they’ve got…talagang sindikato. Imagine that love scam, nagna-number one ngayon ‘yan, pinapasok nila (sindikato). So, I guess ang importante rito is that everyone should be aware of all of these things,” Abalos said in a press briefing on February 6.

(And those behind these were really syndicates. Imagine that love scam, it’s now on top of our list of cybercrimes, and syndicates enter into these schemes. So, I guess what’s important is that everyone should be aware of all of these things.)

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The PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP ACG) also considered love scams as a type of “advanced fee” scams. In love scams, common scenarios include a scammer requesting money from the target, usually to pay for airfare or transportation. The scammer would ask for additional money from the victim by citing “unexpected” difficulties, the PNP ACG explained.

“The closer the date appears to be getting to the victim, the more unexpected calamities appear,” the PNP ACG’s Bulletin No. 133 read.

Victims often lose substantial amounts of money, while the more unfortunate ones lose their lifesavings. Some targets were even convinced to send their valuable items like laptops and mobile phones, the PNP ACG added.

In 2023, authorities raided a Chinese-run offshore gaming company in Pasay City, where the workers were allegedly ordered to flirt with potential targets, making them fall in love before victimizing them for money.

To avoid falling victim to these schemes, follow the PNP ACG’s recommendations:

  • Be careful who you befriend online.
  • Do not respond quickly to any requests involving money.
  • Do not send money to people you do not know well, especially those you have not met personally.
  • Do not reveal much of yourself. Don’t send private photos or videos that might be used to blackmail you for money.
Intensifying anti-cybercrime efforts

Abalos said the PNP will strengthen its anti-cybercrime efforts. Since the police’s anti-cybercrime groups were only at the regional level, he said they would train more police personnel down to the municipal and police station levels to increase the number of cops handling these kinds of crimes.

Abalos added that the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) is set to have a National Cybercrime Training Institute to provide more intensified training for law enforcers. The order creating the said institute would be signed within a month, the DILG chief said.

The PPSC is “the premier educational institution for the training, human resource development and continuing education of all personnel” of the PNP, Bureau of Fire Protection, and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The PNA, quoting the PNP, reported that cybersecurity desks would be put up in police stations in the country, adding that some police personnel had already started undergoing cybercrime training. In Calabarzon, at least 52 cops had already completed their introduction to cybercrime training. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.