PH privacy commission warns public vs online fraud, scams amid COVID-19 scare

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – The National Privacy Commission (NPC) on Tuesday warned the public against online scammers using the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) scare to exploit and steal money and personal information.

“A growing number of online fraudsters are exploiting the public fear surrounding COVID-19 pandemic, using the pandemic to lure people into clicking phishing emails and installing malwares capable of stealing personal data and money,” the NPC said in a statement.

“Our fear during a crisis can expose us to data privacy risks predisposing us to make hasty or ill-informed choices online, which fraudsters are taking advantage of,” it added.

In view of these heightened risks, the NPC appealed to the public to exercise caution online, especially when using online financial services and accessing health-related mobile applications.

“Be cautious with the sites you visit, enhance your privacy settings, and protect your personal data,” the agency said.

The NPC warned that now is the worst possible time to fall victim to online fraudsters as most of the people are accessing the internet to get news and make financial transactions.

“In this period of home quarantine, digital access becomes our main gateway not just for news but also to coordinate tasks with co-workers, make online financial transactions and most importantly, get in touch with loved ones,” it said.

“Indeed, now is the worst possible time to fall victim to online fraudsters. They can steal sensitive data, cause you financial and reputational damages, make your device unusable and cut you off from the outside world,” it added.

To avoid such scenarios, the privacy body urged the public to be vigilant and familiarize themselves with the warning signs.

It also encouraged everyone to practice the following tips to protect personal data in the time of COVID-19:

  • Do not give out your personal data in suspicious COVID-themed emails and messages.
  • Make trusted government and other legitimate websites your go-to source for the latest COVID information.
  • Ensure that the charity or crowdfunding campaign you plan to donate to is legitimate.
  • Be mindful of phishing baits from online scammers.

The NPC also advised the public to be skeptical when they receive messages urging or pressuring them to open a certain link or give out personal information including password and pin number.

“During this critical period, all our focus and efforts should go to the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We should avoid, at all costs, getting sidetracked by these digital pitfalls,” it said.

The commission urged the public to contact its complaints and investigation team through its email addresses at complaints@privacy.gov.ph and info@privacy.gov.ph if they feel that their personal data have been compromised.

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