BIZ  COLUMN:  ANONYMOUS  PREPAID  SIM  CARDS  ARE  SECURITY  RISKS

MANILA,
JUNE 25, 2009
(STAR)  DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - Technology is supposed to be helpful and pleasant but the phone companies have managed to make technology cumbersome and irritating. I am sure there is already available technology which would enable people like me who do not want to be bothered by telemarketers to opt out. I know they have a system and a law in the US and our government should mandate the local telcos to adopt that technology here too.

A big problem we have is our system of anonymous prepaid SIM cards. I think it is a big security risk. It is a terrorist’s basic tool. It also allows criminal minds to do their worse anonymously. There are those text scams which victimize people into believing they won a large sum of money in a raffle and must deposit a sum of money to claim their prize. The old racket called “dugo dugo” gangs which victimize household helps into delivering family valuables to them have also been reported to now be using text messages.

I often see reports on television of death threats being delivered via text messages and the video would even show the text message. But the police are helpless because whoever sent it used a prepaid SIM card that cannot be traced. One of these days, people with mayhem in their hearts will use these same anonymous SIM cards to create public disorder. Given this very real threat in this age of terrorism, I cannot understand why our government is still allowing the telcos to sell unregistered SIMs.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s also why prepaid subscribers get bilked all the time because there is no record of their transactions. It is their word against the phone company’s. The telcos will be more careful if there is a clear record that could be disputed.

I understand the NTC wants to require registration of even prepaid SIMs but that’s one of the issues for which the telcos secured a temporary court restraining order which is now eight years old. Of course it will cut the telcos gargantuan profits but public safety and peace of mind should be a higher consideration.

What we need is a system that automatically displays on our cell phones who is calling or sending a text message whether they are on our phone list or not.

I hope Senate President Enrile will be able to do what the inutile NTC had been unable to do. And as I wrote last week, I hope the Supreme Court will investigate the RTC which allowed a temporary restraining order to shackle the NTC from performing its function for eight long years now.

Sun vs Globe

Speaking of cell phone companies, I didn’t realize that Sun is now on the verge of dislodging or have actually dislodged Globe in the postpaid category until I read an article quoting Globe’s new CEO last Monday.

Expressing exasperation about Globe’s market position, Ernest Cu, Globe’s new CEO told Inquirer “Globe’s always number two in everything. Think about where Globe is number one? Even our position in postpaid is now being threatened by Sun.” Cu pointed out incredulously that “they’re supposed to become now the number one postpaid brand and at times, even our main competitor calls us the number three brand, which I kind of resented, actually.”

How come Sun is not trumpeting this achievement? I have never known Mr. John Gokongwei to be the shy type. If this accomplishment is true, it is a strong marketing point to make. There are people who may be attracted to many of Sun’s innovative packages and pricing but are worried that the company itself may not be of the same caliber as Globe or Smart.

In fact, if you take the example of Cebu Pacific, one of the reasons it became very competitive to Philippine Airlines is the way it used media to deliver the message that they are as good as, if not better than, the market leader. Lance Gokongwei, like his father, certainly knows how to use media as a marketing tool. Maybe he is more focused on Cebu Pacific and has little time for Sun.

In any case, Sun appears to be doing well and will probably do even better if they don’t treat their market gains as a well kept secret.

Consumer protection

I got this e-mail from a Pinoy expat in New York reacting on the columns about consumer protection.

I had a similar problem here in the States, when I opened a bundled checking and time deposit account with Bank of America (BOFA). On several instances, my checking account went into deficit without me having made a single withdrawal. I investigated the problem and found out that BOFA had been wrongfully charging my account with fees that did not apply to me.

What dismayed me further was that the first time I reported the problem to the branch, the branch attendant stonewalled me with “internal policies”, instead of going out of her way for a few minutes to see if there was anything she could do to help. That was not the kind of demeanor they had shown me when they enticed me to open the account.

As soon as my account had matured, I pulled out all the money I had deposited with BOFA and will soon open a plain time deposit account with a neighborhood thrift bank that I had previously done business with and where I found the service to have been far superior to BOFA’s, even if its products are not as sophisticated. I also took the time to make sure that this thrift bank was on sound financial footing before I open an account with them.

This is not the first time I have been screwed by a vendor. Over the few years that I have been living in the United States, I have had similar problems with IKEA, Time Warner Cable, a former landlord, Columbia Business School (yes, I consider a school to be a paid service) and many more.

My point here is, in a society where people can freely trade goods and services, there will always be parties out to take undue advantage of the people they trade with. The best way for a player in this game to respond is to do some due diligence first before dealing and if problems still happen, make sure not to engage with unscrupulous parties again. Whatever benefits more regulation may have will be offset by the tax burden and potential abuse coming from installing another layer of government bureaucracy.

Assuming that all mobile phone vendors are guilty of unscrupulous billing, people who use mobile phones for business can and should switch to monthly plans. Those who don’t need mobile phones for business can make do with pagers, e-mail or landlines with answering machines until such time that mobile providers improve their services. My hunch is that at some point, another vendor with better and more reliable service will emerge.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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