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Three ways to know if you are being scammed by a chatbot

“If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is (not true or a scam)!”

That was the stern warning of Carlos Tengkiat, Chief Information Security Officer of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), as the bank talks about chatbot scam tactics in the Philippines, urging Filipino consumers to enhance their vigilance and online safety.

“One prevalent scam involves impersonating companies using chatbots to sound professional, luring victims with enticing but unrealistic offers, such as high-paying jobs, easy investment schemes, or free gifts,” Tengkiat stressed.

Scammers who often pretend to be reputable organizations, use  chatbots to mimic the appearance of legitimate entities like banks, government agencies, or e-commerce platforms. To add an extra layer of deception, they employ the names of real individuals and organizations to engage with their victims.

Chatbot scams start from pop up messages or links sent via email or text messages. They can easily disguise themselves as a company who can start a conversation, sounding like an actual person. And by using such technology, it eliminates misspelling or wrong grammar, making the scam harder to detect. Their primary objective is to earn your trust through conversation. Once it’s earned, they can easily work their way into getting more personal information.

Tengkiat warned  that scammers often ask their victims for personal or financial information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account details. “Never disclose this information to someone you don’t know and trust,” he added.

Scammers frequently employ a sense of urgency as a tactic. “One common method used is a warning that your account has been compromised,” Tengkiat warned. Victims may be pressured into swift decision-making by warnings that they must act promptly to seize a remarkable opportunity or avoid account blockages. His advice to consumers is that “don’t be rushed into making a decision. Take the time to countercheck and do your research.

Tengkiat then emphasized the importance of verifying the authenticity of chatbots and the organizations they claim to represent within the local context. Is it from a legitimate website or social media page? Does it have a contact number or email address?

So how do you know if you’re talking to a Chatbot?

First, you get faster responses. Typical chat exchanges take about a few seconds to respond because humans think first of what to say, and then type.

Second, absence of misspelled words or grammatical errors. Chatbots rely on programmed  or templated responses which sometimes result in run-on or redundant sentences. Responses programmed may have been proofread or scanned to eliminate these errors.

Third, you get vague responses. Chatbots, as artificially intelligent as they are, are still limited to information fed to them. There are instances when they can’t analyze your question or statement. In return, you get statements that are irrelevant, but still coherent and grammatically correct.

Chatbots are widely used by many businesses for basic and immediate customer support. It has proven to improve customer engagement as it helps resolve basic queries without human intervention. However, it has also become a tool for scammers to engage with their potential victims.

“If you’re not sure, don’t engage. If you’re ever unsure about the authenticity of a chatbot, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not engage with it at all. Contact the organization to validate,” he added.

Other precautions include never giving out PIN or One Time Password (OTP), being careful about clicking on links, opening attachments, or scanning QR Code, and using a strong password and changing it regularly.

If someone has become a victim of a chatbot-related scam, it is strongly advised to promptly contact their bank or financial institution. Doing so will enable them to receive assistance in blocking any unauthorized transactions and securing their account.

“Change your passwords for all of your online accounts.This will help protect your accounts from further attacks. And be vigilant about your financial information. Be careful about who you give your information to and what websites you visit,” Tengkiat further said.

The Chief Information Security Officer also added to use all the security features of your email and social media accounts such as recovery phone or email. This will enable you to easily recover your account.

RCBC remains committed to protecting Filipino consumers in their online interactions and encourages a proactive stance in preventing chatbot-related scams. The bank endeavors to equip users with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the digital landscape safely.