• Identity thief victimizing celebrity couple arrested

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     Maricel Laxa and Anthony Pangilinan

    Maricel Laxa and Anthony Pangilinan

    The Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has arrested a 19-year-old female college student accused of identity theft by show business couple Anthony Pangilinan and Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan.

    Senior Supt. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, ACG director,  in a news briefing at Camp Crame in Quezon City on Wednesday afternoon identified the suspect as Myca Acobo Aranda, a student of Kings College of the Philippines and resident of Barangay Bagbag, Novaliche, in the city.

    Eleazar said Aranda was nabbed last Tuesday evening around 6 p.m. after she withdrew the cash that was sent to Laxa-Pangilinan via Smart Padala, a cash remittance service.

    The incident, he added, has prompted them to renew their call to the public to beware of  identity thieves who can easily siphon off bank deposits of their targets through fraudulent online transactions.

    The ACG director said they discovered that Aranda, of Western Buyagan, La Trinidad, Benguet, created fake Facebook accounts four years ago using the names, pictures and personal circumstances of Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan and her four children.

    Using the individual fake accounts of Laxa-Pangilinan and the children, the suspect communicated with friends and relatives of the celebrity couple and asked them to donate money for a supposed outreach program of a daughter of the Pangilinans.

    Eleazar said that according to Maricel’s husband Anthony, a Facebook user with the profile name Suzette was asked by the suspect to donate P50,000 to their daughter’s outreach program in the Cordillera Region.

    Suzette was convinced by Aranda to send the money to ‘Myca Aranda’ thru LBC money remittance.

    Eleazar said some friends and relatives of the Pangilinan couple also informed the two that the same Facebook user solicited money from them using Facebook messenger.

    He added that they found out that the suspect was using two Globe prepaid SIM card numbers to demand money from friends and relatives of Maricel also for her outreach programs.

    A relative of the couple received a text message on June 6, 2016 from the same number, Eleazar said, and the text sender identified herself as a nanny of a son of the Pangilinans and began asking for money for the boy.

    The ACG director noted that the relative had the presence of mind to inform Maricel about the message that she had received.

    Eleazar said when they received the complaint of Anthony Pangilinan, he immediately fielded teams to handle the case.

    According to him,  the arrest was made with the collaboration of the alleged victims, Smart Padala agents and other PNP units.

    An ACG team led by Supt. Jay Guillermo nabbed the suspect in an entrapment.

    Eleazar said ACG investigators found out that Aranda is an Information Technology (IT) student who has the technical expertise to hide her identity and delete digital evidence from her gadgets.

    “The electronic gadgets that we are using have digital fingerprints that were imbedded [in]all gadgets and these digital fingerprints will be seen in the gadgets that we [use in]communicating online,” according to the ACG chief.

    The police official said the suspect will be charged for violation of Section 4b3 (Identity Theft) of Republic Act 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012), Section 4a (Child Abuse) of RA 7610 and Article 315 (Swinding/Estafa) of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 6 of RA 10175.

    Eleazar thanked the Pangilinan family for showing full trust and confidence in their office when they surfaced to file a complaint against the suspect.

    He asked parents to spend more time in communicating with their children particularly minors to prevent them from falling victims to Internet predators.

    “We are encouraging parents and children to report to the PNP-ACG all Internet or computer crimes. We assure them that all information they will provide us will be treated with utmost confidentiality,” Eleazar said.

    He also encouraged telephone companies to fully support Philippine law enforcement agencies tasked to catch  criminals using prepaid SIM cards.

    At present, Eleazar said, there is also a need for Congress to approve a pending bill on mandatory registration of prepaid SIM cards to easily identify their users who are involved in different criminal activities using the Internet.

    He gave tips that had come from banks to avoid identity theft:

    These tips include improved security precautions by using strong email passwords and changing them regularly and refraining from opening unknown emails and attachments that may contain malware.

    The other bank safety tips:

    • Install an anti-virus program and firewall on computers and update the software as needed.

    • Keep personal information off social media. Be careful with posting anything on social media that could provide infrmation on location and accessibility.

    • Keep your credit card and its details always safe.

    • Be careful in giving information  on web purchases.

    • Do not surf the web while accessing online banking accounts. Ensure that only your online banking site is open.

    • Do not engage in sensitive transactions online.

    • Monitor online account activities.

    • Separate passwords for online banking and non-banking accounts.

    • Subscribe to text and email notifications and alerts from your financial services institutions.

    • Cooperate with the banks on  update adjustments to improve online security and customer identification and verification processes.

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