For years, the citizens and legislators in the Philippines have been debating whether SIM card registration should be made mandatory or not. In other neighboring countries such as Singapore, SIM card registration is a must, even for prepaid accounts. In the Philippines, you can buy a SIM card anywhere, with some costing less than a dollar, and no documents are necessary to register the number. This has led to many incidents of theft and acts of terrorism due to the sense of anonymity that an unregistered SIM card user has.
Many protesters have cited that asking people to register their SIM cards is an invasion of privacy, that it is a means for the government to keep tabs on people. But in my opinion, the positive points outweigh the negative, especially if we take a little time to remember instances wherein an unregistered mobile number was used to spread mayhem and carnage in different parts of the country. And besides, if we have nothing to hide, why should we not feel comfortable about SIM registration?
Here are the reasons why the Philippine government should seriously consider making SIM card registration mandatory:
1. To deter terrorists from their plans.
Flashback to Valentine’s Day, year 2005. A bomb was planted inside a bus, where it exploded while it was along the EDSA Superhighway, which is one of the main highways of Metro Manila. Upon examining the bomb site, pieces of a mobile phone were found, and later on it was concluded that it had an unregistered SIM, and calling that number caused it to trigger the bomb. There were many deaths and casualties on that bus, and that was a dark day in Manila. For the loved ones of those who were harmed and killed in the incident, Valentine’s Day would never be the same again.
After the Valentine’s Day bombing, another similar occurrence happened in 2011. Another bus was blown up, and upon investigation it was discovered that a cell phone was used to detonate an 81 mortar round.
Because of this, the government has taken some measures to deter terrorists from doing more harm. In 2012, cell phone signals were blocked while the Pista ng Nazareno was taking place in Metro Manila. The annual Black Nazarene procession is one of the most highly attended events in the city, with over 8 million devotees trooping to Quiapo, Manila for the event. Days before the procession, President Aquino appeared in a rare press conference to warn devotees about a security threat. The devotees and other people in the area only knew about the signal blocking on the day of the event.
While making a move to block cell phone signals was indeed quite brilliant, this counter measure against terrorist plots cannot always be done. It’s inconvenient and impractical. For instance, how are people supposed to communicate in case of emergencies? How will transactions that are reliant on SMS messaging push through without a decent signal? Wouldn’t SIM card registration be more practical and more effective to lessen crimes such as these from happening?
A registered SIM card would be instrumental to finding the culprit behind would-be bombings, and would greatly increase the safety of the public.
2. To thwart scam artists’ plans.
Technology is indeed a great thing, enabling us to get information with a click of a mouse or with a few swipes on our phones. But with technology also comes more opportunity for scam artists to gain more victims.
In cell phone scams in the Philippines, some of the most effective scams are the ones where a person is informed that he or she has won a prize, and asked to provide account numbers so that the cash prize will be deposited directly to that account.
Personally, I have been on the receiving end of such text messages, and the last one I received was just about three weeks ago, and here is the actual content of that message, word for word:
Sent from 09268712617
Congrats! Ur Sim # Had Won Php. 850,000.00 from: PAGCOR 2nd Prize Winner, to claim Pls. Call Me Now I’m Atty: HENDRY A. CHUA, Per DTI, 3443 S’2014
Ok, now let’s analyze what makes this a scam.
First of all, the source is an ordinary 11-digit cell phone number. A true promotion will come from a special 4-digit number. This man, “Hendry Chua”, is probably aware of this, that’s why he tacked on the fake DTI number at the end of the text message.
Second, if you haven’t joined any raffle draws or promotions, how would that possibly make you eligible to win anything? If you received texts like this and you have not joined any contests or raffles, then it’s a scam for sure.
Third, notice the sense of urgency? “Hendry Chua” is demanding that you call him now, and this is an instant red flag. Any promotions or contests that are registered with the Department of Trade and Industry will not pressure you to claim the prize right away. As part of DTI’s procedure, the department gives the winner 60 days to claim the prize.
Fourth, though I was not victimized by this text scam, there have been reports wherein “winners” are being asked to send a pre-paid card number, deposit or send money, or transfer any amount to a person as a condition to claim the prize. The DTI never requires this from any winner of a legitimate promo.
Lastly, observe the grammar and punctuation. This guy didn’t even bother to make it look professional. Ur instead of your? Really? Sorry, “Hendry Chua”, I’m not falling for this one.
Text scammers are relatively hard to pursue, mostly because they can switch from one number to another. Most even use multiple numbers to initiate a scam, and because they are using prepaid SIM cards, it is impossible to trace the location of the cell phone number, unless it has been registered.
3. To protect your loved ones from being scammed or harmed.
You might be on to how scammers operate, but what about your loved ones? Recently, an alarming trend in scamming is now targeting children and house maids. The modus operandi starts with an act of surveillance. Scammers would track the schedules of everyone in the house, paying special attention to times when people would leave the house and arrive. The scammers will choose to strike when the parents are at work, and the house maids and the children are at home. The modus operandi plays out in this sequence:
- The maid or the eldest child will receive a call via cell phone, and the scammer will inform the maid or the child that one of the parents has been seriously injured and was rushed to the hospital. The caller will then say that a large amount of money is needed for surgery and other hospital bills.
- Assuming that the child or the maid has the presence of mind to call the parent to check if it’s true, the scammers will prevent this from happening by bombarding the mobile number with numerous calls and text messages, making it difficult to make an outgoing call.
- The child or the maid will then be instructed to bring valuables and to put them inside one bag, then he or she will be meeting with the caller in a very public location, such as a mall.
- Upon turning up at the mall, the scammer will stroll up to the maid or child, swipe the bag, and disappear into the crowd.
I had a co-worker who was victimized by this particular scam, and it was her 10-year old son who got the call. He was instructed to go to the mall, and within seconds, the bag was stolen from him. Because the child did not know the combination to his mom’s safe, the caller instructed him to bring gadgets so that they could be sold and the money would be used to pay for his mother’s hospitalization. Among those that were taken were two laptops, a cell phone and an Android tablet. Upon realizing what just happened, the child sought help from the police, who called my co-worker and told her to pick him up at the mall which happened to be just a kilometer away from their home. Traumatized, the child refused to go to school and was unable to go out of his home due to sheer terror. It took him a few weeks and some therapy for him to be able to leave his house again.
Though investigation is still ongoing, the police have seemed to come to a dead end, simply because the only way to identify the culprit was through his mobile number. And because the mobile number was (you guessed it) unregistered, there was no way to trace his or her whereabouts, and just like all scammers, the number that was used is now not in use. As a precautionary move, the culprit could have simply disposed of the SIM card, rendering him or her untraceable, and free to prey on more victims in the future.
All these are reasons enough to change the way things are with regards to SIM card usage in our country. To protect our countrymen and our loved ones, I strongly urge the government to make SIM registration mandatory. It will help protect lives and property, and it will make the country a safer place to live in.