Business process outsourcing (BPO) in the Philippines is filled with positivity. To start with, the industry currently employs about 1.15 million people, according to the National Economic Development Authority, and job portal PhilJobnet said it remains a top job generator offering a total 133,300 call center agent positions in 2017.
BPO jobs are attractive because the pay is very competitive and benefits include health insurance coverage, commissions and bonuses. The purchasing power of its workforce drive businesses and support families financially.
The BPO industry generated $23 billion in revenues in 2017, accounting for 9 percent of the country’s gross national product. The Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines forecast an annual growth of 9 percent for the industry.
It attracts foreign investments. In fact, three new BPO companies register in the country every week during the early part of first quarter of 2018, the Kittelson & Carpo Consulting found.
The BPO sector even generates demand for property. In 2017, BPO firms took up 385,000 square meters of floor space and, for 2018, the forecast demand for BPO office space is 485,000 square meters, according to Leechiu Property Consultants.
The positivity in the BPO industry, however, was shattered in the last two weeks when two call centers were raided by police and immigration agents for alleged cybercrime activity and immigration violations.
One of the call centers based in Posadas Village in Barangay Sucat, Muntinlupa City, was not only operating illegally, but also defrauding Thai nationals in the Philippines. More seriously, fugitive foreigners involved in drug trafficking, including 16 Thais, were caught operating the call center.
The other call center, named International Brandings Development Marketing, Inc. (IBDMI) based in Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga, was raided on June 5 for allegedly stealing bank account and credit card information of foreign clients, who were duped into engaging in its online trading of stocks.
Eight Israelis operating the IBDMI, which reportedly earns $1 million per day, were arrested during the raid along with 474 Filipinos employed by the company. All of them are facing charges of syndicated estafa.
Over the last few years, call centers were also raided for employing foreigners without a valid working visa, for operating illegal online gambling games and for serving as a front for cyberporn or cybersex operations. With the latest raids on call centers, it seems the industry has been complacent, if not indifferent, to tightly policing its ranks.
With criminals now masking their operation by disguising as a BPO business or call center, legitimate and law-abiding contact centers face suspicion from cybercrime authorities. If the good reputation of the BPO sector as a whole suffers because criminals are able to exploit it for their illicit activities, the repercussions would be serious.
The credibility of the BPO industry is at stake if cyber criminals can easily operate call centers. It could give the Philippines that cybercrime capital tag and turn off foreign investors wanting to put up a BPO shop in the country.
Worse, Filipinos might be duped into working for such call centers and get an unwanted criminal record when the police raid comes. For call center agents, it would help to be aware if their work is illegal and criminal to avoid getting into trouble like the 474 workers of IBDMI. Ignorance of the law excuses no one.