Watch out for ‘too good to be true’ online relationships

November 07, 2018

WITH Christmas in the air, the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) has appealed anew on unsuspecting Pinoys and Pinays to be wary of the existence of a syndicate known for luring unsuspecting social media users into long-distance relationships before eventually turning their virtual girlfriends or boyfriends into proverbial milking cows.

PNP-ACG director, Chief Superintendent Marni C. Marcos Jr. said that in particular, Facebook users must be cautious enough when they correspond with persons, mostly foreigners who claim they are looking for romance.

The PNP-ACG is investigating complaints regarding people who got involved in an online relationship with someone but who eventually lost their money to the syndicate with a very low possibility of recovery. These suspects are also known as ‘catfish’ in the netizens’ world.

Abroad, many of the suspects are from African countries using untraceable email addresses, routing accounts through numerous locations around the world and utilizing pay per hour Internet cyber cafes, which often times maintain no accountability of use.

Thus, the PNP-ACG has called on the public not to send money and be extremely suspicious if they were asked money for transportation costs, communication fees or marriage processing and medical fees via Western Union and other money remittance centers in the country.

Marcos said if one really wishes to start an Internet-based relationship with someone, check them out and make some research. Most importantly, be suspicious  if they start asking for money.

Last month, agents of the PNP-ACG busted a so-called ‘Romance/Love Scam’ syndicate believed to have amassed millions of pesos from their online victims in the country, Marcos reported to PNP chief, Director General Oscar D. Albayalde.

The official said the latest victim of the group is one Frederick Egea, a 23-year old overseas Filipino worker who lost a total of P600,000 to the scammers who are behind an online dating scam. The suspects gained notoriety for using  pseudo-names and posing as foreigners, mostly male and female Caucasians, to attract the opposite sex to join their online chats.

In the case of Egea, the victim was introduced to a certain ‘Angelica Calanog,’ said to be a 20-year old resident of Sampaloc, Manila. The two later developed an online romance wherein Egea gave the woman a total of P600,000 over a period of 2 years.

Marcos said seven members of the syndicate were arrested during a sting they jointly conducted with the Quezon City Police District headed by Chief Supt. Joselito T. Esquivel Jr. inside two hamburger joints in the city last September 11.

Four of the suspects arrested were females  identified as Ma. Angelica Miguel, 21; Richelle Casilla, 32; Jeanly Shane Boyore, 18; and Juvy Ann Capino, 19; while three were males identified as Arjay Balansayo, 27; John Luis Patrick Acol, 19; and Jim Anthony Besonia, 18.

“The sad thing here is that some of our compatriots want to have an online relationship with foreigners,” Marcos said.

In the wake of recent reports of identity theft and hacking of social networking accounts, particularly Facebook, the PNP-ACG also alerted Facebook users and subscribers in the Philippines to reinforce their vulnerabilities against possible cyber-attacks by observing the following basic cybercrime prevention tips:

1. Always keep your Social Media Accounts private; 2. Use a unique password in every online account;   3. Initiate a background investigation of a person’s social media account who is not known to you personally before befriending or accepting a friend request. This can be done by knowing how long the account existed, how many friends it has and does it have regular online activities; 4. Protect your computer system against intruders, by installing Anti-Virus and by activating your firewall; and 5.  Remember the phrase, “Too Good to be true.””.

Marcos said that the public can also visit their website and facebook page at www.pnpacg.gov.ph and Facebook page: PNP Anti-Cybercrime for further information.

PNP chief, Director General Oscar D. Albayalde at the same time urged Facebook users to secure the privacy of their accounts after the social media giant reported a major security breach that compromised around 50 million accounts.

“We are alerting Facebook users and subscribers in the Philippines to enforce their vulnerabilities against possible cyber attacks by observing basic cybercrime prevention tips,” the PNP chief said. He added that anti-virus softwares and firewalls should also be activated in personal computers.

Gen. Albayalde also warned against online banking scams and hacking which he described as ‘very profitable nowadays,’