Never before have so many Filipinos come under the incessant gaze and scrutiny of many cybercriminals.
Cybercriminals are running amok these days that last week, the Department of Justice reported that cybercrime-related incidents, particularly online scams, increased by 400 percent compared to the previous year.
In fact, cybercrime has gotten so bad it has exceeded ordinary crimes, including even the illegal drug trade, as the crime of choice, says the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission.
Consequently, we need to heed this worrisome trend, even if we're smart enough to quickly see how the scammer is freely cavorting in the digital landscape.
It isn't farfetched a prospect that our best-guarded digital defenses, particularly during unguarded moments, can crumble as digital deceits evolve into even more sophisticated and complex schemes.
At any rate, relevant to the season is the fear of anti-cybercrime enforcers that there will be a tsunami of online selling scams rolling over most of the country as the Christmas rush goes into high gear.
Their nightmares about a forthcoming scammed Christmas season inhabited by teary-eyed duped shoppers aren't unfounded.
Online selling scams are by far the most common digital-based modus operandi, according to the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, accounting for 3,615 cases from January to August 2023 alone.
A recent survey among 11 Asian countries indicated the Philippines is the most susceptible to shopping scams, obtaining a whopping 35.9-percent rating.
Police also report that online shopping and other top common scams have cost Filipinos at least P155.2 million as of October, with the cost going even higher as some frauds go unreported.
How much higher the costs and how many more will be victimized by scammers this year can be guessed by what happened last year.
In the run-up to last year's Christmas season, a survey showed 71 percent of Filipinos said digital fraud attempts had targeted them through emails, phone calls, online messaging, or texts.
Of that high number, 11 percent admitted to falling victim to fraud.
So overwhelming were the numbers of the victimized that police in Metro Manila were subsequently forced to create anti-cybercrime desks in all of their 17 police stations. Police say they are trying to replicate the anti-cybercrime desks all over the county.
Besides online selling scams, among the most reported scams mushrooming nationwide are call scams, investment scams, package scams, ATM frauds, employment scams, and loan scams.
As to what online platforms scammers use, police say they mostly exploit social media apps.
Facebook Messenger seems to be the scammer's favorite, followed by WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram and SMS, police say.
Exploiting social media for scams usually involves creating fake accounts and using stolen photos.
Scammers try to gain a potential victim's trust and then deceive them into transferring funds or buying non-existent goods using electronic payment systems like GCash.
Unfortunately, duping people seems relatively easy. "Some people easily believe in false promises, even if they are too good to be true," an anti-cybercrime official laments.
The lament has a basis. A recent Asia Scam Report says 24.8 percent of Filipino scam victims had, in fact, responded too quickly to scammers' enticements, and 21.1 percent of them chose to chance it despite knowing the risks involved.
There are many conceivable reasons why hardscrabble Filipinos easily beeline to scammers. Nothing is causeless, and the fact that some Filipinos are easily duped can tell us something about the realities of Filipino life. But that's for another time.
Meantime, with digital scams drowning Filipinos left and right, authorities themselves are hard-pressed and struggling.
As one senior assistant governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas admits, although the country has the cybercrime law, the SIM registration law, and the Financial Consumer Protection Act, these are "not a guarantee that we can protect the consumers because (fraud) is constantly evolving."