The Department of Finance (DoF) has once again issued a stern warning against potentially harmful get-rich-quick online schemes purportedly launched by the government.
This latest advisory arose from a news article stating that the government had created a platform called “Bitcoin Lifestyle” and that President Rodrigo Duterte “is urging all citizens of the Philippines to learn about Bitcoin Lifestyle quickly to get involved.”
The fake news further suggested that “the government of Philippines asserts that tax revenues [from Bitcoin Lifestyle] would be huge and would benefit all citizens, and most of it would go to the financing of Philippines’s retirement and to counteract the crisis of learning support services.”
Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito Lambino 2nd said, “This is false. We categorically deny that there is such a move and warn the public against potentially harmful financial transactions with those behind the article.”
“We urge the public to exercise caution in their investments and to keep their expectations of returns realistic,” added Lambino, who is also DoF spokesman and head of its Strategy, Economics and Results Group.
In January this year, former senator and real estate magnate Manuel Villar issued a similar denial against his involvement in a Bitcoin trading program that used bogus celebrity endorsements to attract investors.
In a statement, he said he had “never made any such endorsement or have I engaged in the said bitcoin program.”
“This is obviously a scam and I ask the public to protect themselves from such unscrupulous act,” Villar added.
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) warned the public against investing in groups promising quick returns supposedly from investments in cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence and other innovations.
In separate advisories, the commission flagged Delta Crypt Ltd., Invexpert and The Billion Coin for engaging in unauthorized investment-solicitation and -taking activities.
Delta Crypt, the regulator said, offered standard investment plans yielding 104 to 6,000 percent only after one to 90 days for a minimum deposit of $10 and a maximum of $100,000.
Meanwhile, Invexpert promised lucrative returns ranging from 104 to 3,000 percent in one to 30 days for a minimum investment of $500 up to a maximum of $100,000.
Under the Securities Regulation Code, those who act as salesmen, brokers, dealers or agents of fraudulent investment schemes may be held criminally liable and penalized with a maximum fine of P5 million or imprisonment of 21 years, or both.
In addition, illegal operators in today’s coronavirus-ravaged times could come under the purview of Republic Act 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” which penalizes those participating in cyber incidents or prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails or other similar acts with two-month imprisonment or a maximum fine of P1 million, or both.
In 2019, global losses from cryptocurrency-related crimes surged to $4.4 billion from $1.7 billion the year before. In the Philippines, despite the bitcoin crash of 2018, cryptocurrency awareness is gaining ground, but the overall dearth of investible funds prevent it from generating a lot of investor attention.
Still, millions of cryptocurrency investors around the world have been scammed out of massive sums of real money. Tapping into new technology-driven tactics, criminals go about their swindling ways based on digital currencies exchanged through online databases called blockchains.
Crime investigators note that some cryptocurrency fraudsters rely on tried-and-true Ponzi or pyramiding schemes that use income from new participants to pay out returns to earlier investors. Others use highly sophisticated and high-end processes, including automated software that interacts with the internet-based, instant-messaging Telegram, a popular system among people interested in cryptocurrencies.
Experts on human behavior agree that the promise of big returns entice the innate greed of people to cryptocurrency schemes. Some scammers go for straight-up deception. Scam cryptocurrency OneCoin convinced a lot of people of their nonexistent cryptocurrency and defrauded investors of $3.8 billion.
Other scammers preyed on their potential victims by getting their attention with technical jargon or specialized marketing savvy. In the case of the Global Trading swindle, the con involved foisting the idea of arbitrage, which simply meant buying cheaply in one cryptocurrency exchange and selling in another exchange at a higher price. Just like a super game of shell, large sums of got were transferred to the con men’s pockets to the ruin of hundreds of ignorant “suckers.”
Greed is a human frailty. At the end of the day, Innocent people are being defrauded of their hard-earned money, even of their savings and retirement funds, and fraudsters should not easily get away with it.
Something must be done to recover from a scam or at least penalize the scammers with heavy fines or jail terms or both.
In the latest cryptocurrency scam dragging the President’s name, Lambino urged the public to report suspicious investment schemes to the Enforcement and Investor Protection Department of the SEC, with telephone number 8818-5704.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has recorded an increase in cybercrime incidents in the last five years. In a recent statement, police authorities warned that the government was monitoring the public space for unscrupulous individuals and groups attempting to lure the public into unauthorized and deceptive investment schemes. Appropriate legal and regulatory action would be taken against the perpetrators.
To help stem the rising tide of cybercrime in the country, the PNP encourages victims of illegal online activities or targets of suspicious online messages to report these incidents to the PNP Anti-Crime Group (ACG) for proper evaluation and investigation. Related complaints could be filed through its website (www.pnpacg.ph), hotline number (7230401 local 5313) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also, they also check the group’ twitter account, @PNPACG, and Facebook account, PNP ACG, for cyber security updates.