New scam wave can bypass traditional telco networks: PCTO

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THE Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO) on Tuesday issued a warning about a new wave of scam messages targeting mobile users through methods that bypass traditional telco networks.

PCTO President Froilan Castelo said the group is calling for “greater collaboration” among industry players, government agencies, and stakeholders to address these emerging threats.

“This new wave of scam messages is worrisome as fraudsters have resorted to methods that do not pass through telco networks, thus they are able to evade our already robust filters,” he said.

According to Castelo, there has been a significant rise in malicious messages sent through methods outside the cellular network. This trend emerged as telcos like enforced stringent security measures against scam and spam SMS, including blocking all person-to-person SMS with links in September 2022 and later restricting app-to-person SMS.

Today, fraudsters are using over-the-top media services or chat apps, Rich Communication Services (RCS) chats for Android users, and other Internet-based messaging platforms to send messages to their targets.

These methods allow scammers to reach users even with foreign mobile numbers.

Castelo added that another alarming tactic is the use of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, or fake cell towers, which can intercept mobile communications within a specific area.

These portable devices enable fraudsters to connect directly with SIMs and send messages using imitated sender IDs, a method known as spoofing. This makes it difficult for mobile users to detect fraudulent messages, which often appear to be official advisories directing victims to malicious online pages via clickable links.

In response to these challenges, telcos have stopped using clickable links in their official customer advisories and have repeatedly reminded customers to stay vigilant against scams.

Efforts are also under way to address the issue of spoofing, including preventing the importation of spoofing devices.

“Industry players and key stakeholders must work closely together to combat this trend. Let’s focus on finding ways to defeat our common enemy: scammers,” Castelo said.

Still, Castelo reminded the public to likewise protect themselves from bad actors, calling on subscribers to remain vigilant.

“At the end of the day, the first line of defense for mobile users are themselves. Be vigilant and discerning against messages from unknown numbers, and never click on any link inside unsolicited messages. More often than not, these messages are meant to defraud you,” he said.

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