Safety, security of PHL banks under scrutiny after series of online theft

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – No sooner had the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) solved the online theft from some 700 bank accounts at BDO when another case involving hackers taking the payroll money of teachers was revealed this week.

Teacher after teacher complained of losing their savings in accounts maintained at the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The common complaint centered on their receiving one-time password text messages from Landbank. The teachers then learned that funds had been moved from their accounts to another account in another bank. In other cases, funds are transferred to electronic wallets such as GCash.

The teachers who fell victim to the new scam filed their complaints before the Department of Education this week.

For its part, the Landbank said that while their systems were safe, the teachers had fallen victim to phishing schemes. The government-controlled bank said the devices of the victims had been “compromised (of) their personal information.”

Thus far, only about a dozen teachers have admitted being victimized by the hackers, with one teacher saying he had lost P121,000 and another experiencing a loss of P84,815.

Landbank said the hacking involved “isolated cases,” and bank depositors had nothing to fear.

The Landbank scam came in the wake of the NBI declaring that the scandal involving the loss of tens of thousands of pesos from the accounts of at least 700 individuals who maintained accounts at the Banco de Oro, the country’s largest bank.

Amounts ranging from P25,000 to P50,000 on the average were siphoned off the accounts of BDO in the waning weeks of December, last year.

NBI Director Eric Distor told local media that a tipster had provided the lead that resulted in the arrest of two Nigerians and three Filipinos.

The suspects, Nigerians Ifesinachi Fountain Anaekwe and Chukwuemeka Peter Nawadi; and Filipinos Jherom Anthony Taupa, Ronelyn Panaligan, and Clay Revillosa, were apprehended in separate entrapment operations in the province of Pampanga.

Taupa was tagged as the leader of the gang, referred to by the NBI as the Mark Nagoyo Heist Group. The gang had previously tried to hack the accounts of other BDO account holders in the past, but the simultaneous hacking of some 700 individual accounts was the largest heist of its in the last few decades.

Previously, the Yuchengco family-owned Rizal Commercial and Banking Corp was the victim of an illegal transfer of funds on a global scale.

This was back in 2016 when withdrawals were made from the Bangladesh Bank’s New York office.

Of the $951 million heist, $81 million found its way to RCBC’s branch in Jupiter St., Makati.

The branch manager was fired but not before she pointed to two senior RCBC officials as having approved the questionable transaction, including its president and chief executive officer.

The series of questionable banking transactions from three major commercial banks – BD0, Landbank, and RCBC – have raised questions on how safe and secure Philippine banks are.

To make matters worse, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas raised the prospects of fake money being dispensed by automated tellering machines (ATMs).

The country’s central bank warned the public that ATMs were not as safe as widely believed. From January to September, last year, the BSP seized more than 500 fake bank notes with a total value of P480,000.

An executive from one of the country’s biggest banks and who requested anonymity said the Philippines’ big banks all spent large amounts of money upgrading their systems every year.

“Unfortunately, today’s hackers are employing progressively more advanced means to beat the upgraded systems,” he said.