Home Food & Restaurants The long road to scam proofing the countryside

    The long road to scam proofing the countryside

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    By Ann Cuisia

    It was an ordinary day—or so Nanay Nilda thought. She had just finished hawking her homemade kutsinta around her sitio when she got a call on her old but reliable Nokia. The caller introduced himself as Jon, allegedly a representative from her cooperative. After the short introduction, she was told that the cooperative needs an account update and, thus, can she please confirm that their record is correct?

    What was she to lose: Jon seemed amiable and trustworthy, she thought to herself.

    While we are a nation of social media-happy people, this does not necessarily equate to a high online IQ.

    “Can you confirm your user name, ‘Nay,” Jon asked in the vernacular. Nanay Nilda proceeded to answer. “That is correct,” he replied. “And the password?” Despite the question, Nanay Nilda’s guard remained down. Maybe it was the heat or the fatigue from spending half her morning under the sun. Or perhaps it was the other party’s friendly and soothing voice. She carried on to answer.

    “That is correct,” he said. “Thank you. Would you please wait for another call from us so that you can use your Coop card again? Good day.”

    It took a minute for Nanay to realize that she did not even catch the person’s last name. She thought of calling him back but realized that she could not: She did not have any cellphone load to make a call.

    Cyber Budol-budol

    For most of us who have been online most of our lives, we cannot wrap our minds around the fact that such a scenario is still happening today. A sort of cyber budol-budol. Based on my visits around the country, I have seen advocating for the digital transformation of cooperatives—that there are still many folks who so easily fall prey to scammers and fraudsters.

    Today, online predators employ various creative ways of capturing sensitive information and user credentials, judging by the new cyber terms that spawned of late: spear phishing, whaling, spoofing links, vishing (that’s the vicious act of using a phone to solicit financial or personal details), to name a few.

    Meanwhile, many victims compromise their user credentials for varied reasons—naiveté or cluelessness being one of them.

    But wait: aren’t we the texting capital of the world? Didn’t we top the We Are Social and Hootsuite 2021 list on internet usage? And based on the same report, weren’t we the top in social media use—the sixth straight year of “win,” by the way.

    Aren’t all these indications that Filipinos are tech-savvy?

    Well, Yes and No.

    Teaching Filipinos One Coop At a Time

    The Philippine Statistics Authority survey on mass media exposure of Filipinos in 2019 indicates that Filipinos 10-64 years old are least exposed to surfing the Internet for research work and email (63.6%), reading a newspaper (63.3%), and writing a report/correspondence (43.9%). Filipinos’ penchant for Internet surfing was more for social media use than for research work. This holds true between urban and rural areas, between sexes, and across age groups.

    Thus, while we are a nation of social media-happy people, this does not necessarily equate to a high online IQ.

    We may attribute this lack of information about the Internet (and everything in between) to the lack in telecom infrastructure or Internet access in some parts of the country. The Philippines’ first-ever National ICT Household Survey in 2019 notes that only about 17.7 percent of households have their own Internet access at home. Meanwhile, BARMM and Regions IX, X, V, IV-A, and Caraga have the most households without Internet access.

    But that is just half the story.

    As the lead of the IT management arm of the cooperatives’ platform called digiCOOP, I, along with my team, conduct webinars and, where possible, seminars in Mindanao that focus on how to access and use digiCOOP.

    However, the team soon realized that transitioning non-digital platform users to the digital space needs to go beyond merely acclimatizing them to the functionalities of an app or a browser-based platform. On the ground, we have heard horror stories about cooperative store owners who unknowingly (or knowingly but with no malicious intent) shared their computer passwords or their own user credentials with outside parties. This, sadly, could have been prevented had they understood the purpose of such credentials in cybersecurity.

    Although platforms already have extra layers of security in place, such as one-time pin (OTP) codes, I realized that IT companies and cooperatives alike should follow banks’ lead in continuously educating their users. However, while banks can settle with email and mail notifications sent to their urban clients, the digiCOOP team takes a different tack. It, at times, needs to travel city by city (or sitio by sitio) for the in-depth training of cooperatives in the countryside—trainings that now include a segment about cybersecurity.

    Many say technology is the great equalizer of opportunities.

    I beg to disagree. Technology and education are the great equalizers of opportunities.