Better guardians needed online

Better guardians needed online

The recent news of a bank card scam that affected over 10,000 Thai bank account holders should make consumers take pains to protect themselves from online fraudsters ahead of the year-end shopping season.

The reports of the bank shenanigans surfaced early this week. The Bank of Thailand said unauthorised withdrawals of 130 million baht were made from over 10,000 debit and credit card accounts from Oct 1-16.

The news again highlights the lack of security in the e-commerce world. According to the Bank of Thailand (BoT), there are some 89 million debit and credit card accounts in Thailand. A 2020 study by JP Morgan showed that cross-border purchasing accounted for 30% of the e-commerce market in the kingdom, with 49% of online consumers having made a purchase from abroad that year.

Thailand's mobile commerce market is worth an estimated 490 billion baht, a figure set to grow to 775 billion baht by 2023, the study said.

While e-commerce is thriving here, as in many parts of Asia, the legal mechanism to protect consumers needs to catch up. Enforcement of the 2019 Thailand Personal Data Protection Act, which aims to standardise data protection in the kingdom, has been postponed until June. The law will provide guidelines and penalties for any breaches of cyber security law, including e-commerce activities.

For instance, private and public companies that store consumers' data in their private databases must be required to protect said data or face a penalty. When the data is used fraudulently, these organisations are obliged to inform consumers and provide a suitable remedy, as well as refund any financial losses incurred.

Yet public and private organisations in Thailand have yet to show they are prepared to take responsibility. That being said, after police launched an investigation into the latest case of card fraud, the banks involved pledged to refund victims within five days.

Law enforcement officials link these unwanted transfers to the abuse of online shopping platforms and payment systems by unscrupulous gangs abroad with accomplices in Thailand. These officials have vowed to put an end to such practices, but can we rely on them alone to address all these online security issues?

One can assume that many people will flock to shopping malls and e-commerce platforms for their year-end shopping sprees, which could leave unsuspecting consumers vulnerable to schemes hatched by scammers at home and abroad.

With the lack of a strong cyber security law, Thailand's e-commerce landscape is a fertile ground for criminals looking for ways to exploit shoppers, banks, merchants, and e-commerce firms.

Online scams have been a problem for years. Back in the 2000s in the United States, overseas scammers exploited PayPal and other payment platforms after getting their hands on stolen personal information.

These cyber criminals transferred small amounts of money over a certain period out of multiple PayPal accounts, which led to the firm losing millions of dollars a month despite the FBI navigating various hurdles to pursue the offenders. Years later, PayPal finally began implementing a monitoring system powered by artificial intelligence to flag suspicious transactions.

We cannot be complacent and wait for banks and government officials to protect us from online fraud. Thai consumers must take matters into their own hands.

Consumers should visit the FBI's "Credit Card Fraud" page and consider the agency's advice. The website says "don't trust any website just because it claims to be secure", noting "you should do your homework on the individual or company". The agency even suggests the use of digital wallets, which provide an extra layer of protection because merchants do not get to see your bank account information.

As Christmas nears, the Bank of Thailand and Ministry of Digital Economy and Society will hopefully issue special measures to protect online consumers. Urgently needed are regulations forcing banks to authenticate every purchase order and transaction, no matter the amount, and a feature that allows account owners to more easily track their transactions. To promote the fintech industry, the government and private sector have tried to make online operations "seamless" and convenient. But the latest fraud case shows more work is needed to make them safe.

Thai consumers also need to be better educated about such online shenanigans. And while Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn has urged consumers to become more cyber literate, blaming them doesn't help. If Thais are to put their trust in e-commerce companies, the companies must boost protection of the data entrusted to them.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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