Lending companies cannot access borrower’s contact list 

A few days ago, I woke up to text messages (both my Globe and Smart numbers were used) threatening to sue me if I, as a “co-maker”, could not persuade a relative to repay his loan. 

“Hi comaker please inform: __________ 

“Despite numerous requests for payment which remains unpaid, We demand that payment of the full amount be paid immediately. If this account is not resolved, as part of the process.  We reserve the right to commence legal proceedings for collection to recover the debt without further notice to you, and you may be responsible for any associated legal fees or collection costs.” (Highlighting mine) – Easypeso pro, +639502751547 

I did not know the relative borrowed from whoever or whatever sent the message nor have I signed as a co-maker to a loan taken by a relative or friend. 

A few minutes later, members of our exclusive family chat group were complaining about getting the same message. 

I gathered from younger relatives, who are more technology savvy than me, that this was the way online credit companies operated. They pressure borrowers who are unable to pay their loans by “accessing the debtors’ phone book/contacts’ list for purposes of sending them messages in the event of untimely and/or non-payment”. 

Why is that clause in quotation marks? Because that was exactly what the Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime (OCC) said in a public advisory dated Apr. 23, 2021 that online lending companies (OLC’s) could not and should not do. 

And that was exactly what this online company that threatened to sue me did – access my relative’s contact list and threaten everybody on that list with costly court cases. 

The DOJ’s advisory was issued  almost a year ago but apparently, these OLCs have not read it or it failed to put the fear of God in them. 

It was not just DOJ that warned against this unethical practice. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas have put OLCs on notice about unethical, illegal practices. In fact, SEC has already revoked the licenses of several companies. 

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) said in a circular, “Lenders operating online apps that can be installed in smartphones are prohibited from harvesting personal information, such as phone and social media contact lists, for harassing delinquent borrowers.” 

The Commission added “that any lender found in violation of the circular shall be liable under the applicable provisions of the DPA (Data Privacy Act), which impose fines and imprisonment”. The NPC shut down 26 OLCs a month after the issuance of its circular in October. 

But what OLCs do is resurrect themselves with a new name and a new set of officers. Same difference! 

The DOJ said accessing people’s contact lists and the following acts violate several laws, including Republic Act No. 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012

* Posting the debtors’ personal and sensitive personal information online for purposes of shaming them; 

* Threatening debtors with death and physical injuries if they fail to settle their account balances; and 

* Using profane language through text message directly sent to the debtors and to the debtors’ references for purposes of shaming them. 

Unfair debt collection practices and cyber harassments, the DOJ-OOC said, should immediately be reported to the National Bureau of Investigation-Cybercrime Division, Philippine National Police-Anti-Cybercrime Group, NPC and the SEC. 

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