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Public warned versus travel-related scams


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THE PUBLIC should remain vigilant against scammers posting on social media websites about discounted travel and staycation offers, according to digital advocacy and cybersecurity groups.

This Holy Week, the Civil Aviation Authority expects two million passengers to fly domestically, with fierce competition for tickets and bookings increasing the number of scammers that seek to exploit individuals and groups looking to travel at affordable rates.

“In all Facebook groups specifically for vacation destinations, we have observed that there is always a report of a scammer victimizing accommodation seekers,” said Digital Pinoys national campaigner Ronald Gustilo in an e-mailed statement.

Scammers usually steal photos from actual resorts and vacation homes and post them as if they own or are connected to these places. Victims are enticed because the stays are offered at very low prices.

Using fake accounts and identification, travelers then trust scammers enough to send a deposit to the given e-wallet account details.

Palo Alto Networks, a global cybersecurity firm, provided a list of common approaches by travel-related scammers:

– The use of malicious domains and URLs that impersonate well-known brands and websites; 

– Phishing emails/SMS/WhatsApp texts tricking users into either downloading malicious attachments or clicking on links that lead to malicious website pages or attachments; and

– “Shadow travel agency” services offering travel-related bookings at discounted prices via social media platforms.

Security awareness training is important so that the public can easily identify fraudulent e-mails and posts, according to Steven Scheurmann, Palo Alto Networks’ regional vice president for ASEAN.

“The travel industry is attractive for scammers as it is a huge source of sensitive and personal data, including stolen usernames, e-mails, and passwords, as well as customer data such as identity, payment, and contact information,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

Both travelers and travel companies must also learn to regularly back up data to defend against ransomware attacks via phishing and enforce multi-factor authentication, added. Mr. Scheurmann.

Digital Pinoys’ Mr. Gustilo emphasized that vacationers stick to legitimate booking platforms, which vet all their listings and provide a higher level of security for their users.

“Transactions with legitimate and reputable online booking platforms are safer and more secured as they employ a stringent vetting process before onboarding accommodations. They also allow visitor reviews and usually have 24/7 live customer support,” he said.

He called on the Department of Tourism (DoT) to investigate and take steps to stop the rise of travel-related scammers, which dent the government’s efforts to market the Philippines as a safe destination.

In March, DoT Secretary Christina G. Frasco said they will protect tourists through “zero tolerance” of scams and colorum tour operators.

“That is an issue that we hope to be able to address as far as the Tourist Assistance Call Center is concerned,” she said at an event.

Due to the need for a centralized platform to hear feedback and common issues from local and foreign tourists, Ms. Frasco previously announced the DoT’s plans to launch a tourist assistance call center.

However, she noted that prosecution has to be strengthened as well: “It always requires initiation of a complaint, and a person willing to lodge a complaint against the person that is a colorum operator.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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