'Cheap travel card' scam posts spread online in the Philippines

The Philippines' transport ministry and the operator of a prepaid travel card have warned that social media posts offering a so-called "12 month free subway rides card" are scams. The offers were made from a Facebook page mocked up to look as if it were the official page of a railway line in the capital Manila, and the posts ask users to provide credit card details and permission to take regular payments.

"Due to the price increases for Manila Metro travel cards, Manila Metro and LRTA are launching a promotion to support the public," reads part of a Facebook post shared here on January 24, 2024.

It adds: "Get your card for 168 pesos! Follow the link."

The post was shared on a page called "Manila Metro", and its profile picture appears to be the logo of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), an agency under the Philippines' transport department (archived link). The LRTA operates the LRT-2, which is one of four railway lines in the capital Manila.

An image attached to the post appears to show someone holding up a "12 month free subway rides card" on a busy train platform, and a receipt that states the prepaid travel card cost 168 pesos (3 dollars). Since August 2023, journeys on the line have cost between 14 to 35 pesos (25 to 62 cents) each.

Below the image is an "Apply now" button that leads users to another page that asks for credit card details and consent to make recurring charges of 26 euros (28 dollars) every two weeks.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, captured on February 1, 2024

The post, and similar ones here and here, was shared after train fares in the capital were raised in August 2023 with further increases set for later in 2024 (archived link).

Comments on the posts, from users listed as living outside the Philippines, appear to have been curated to give the purported offer legitimacy.

"We called Manila Metro and LRTA today. They confirmed that this promotion is indeed launched online with the support of the government. So, don't hesitate," read one comment from a user whose account states he lives in Indonesia.

Another user, listed as living in Australia, replied to the post with "Thank you for the card!" alongside a picture of the purported travel card.

But the "12 month free subway rides card" offer does not exist, and authorities have warned the public about the scam.

'Fraudulent intentions'

The Philippines' Department of Transportation (DOTr) said on January 26 that the "Manila Metro" Facebook page is not one of their official channels (archived link).

In a statement posted on the official LRTA-LRT2 Facebook page, the department said: "We strongly condemn such actions and appeal to everyone to exercise caution when engaging in online transactions."

It said they "would never request credit card details in any of their interactions with the public" and warned "there may be malicious parties with fraudulent intentions attempting to deceive the public".

The statement was posted alongside multiple screenshots of posts from the page marked "scam".

The department urged the public to verify information through its official website and social media channels.

AF Payments Inc (AFPI), the company behind the prepaid "Beep" cards pictured in the false posts, also rubbished the purported offer (archived links here and here).

"AFPI categorically denies any involvement in this misleading, bogus and fraudulent promotional scheme," it said on Facebook on January 26.

In a separate statement on its own official Facebook page, the DOTr said neither they nor AFPI had authorised the sale of any "12 month free subway rides card" (archived link). 

Altered travel card photos

Reverse image searches on Google and Bing showed the images used in the false post and by commenters have been doctored.

The image used in the false post, without the person holding up the purported travel card, was used in a post on social media platform X by local broadcaster ABS-CBN News on March 28, 2022 (archived link).

The X post's caption reads, "LOOK: Commuters crowd the MRT-3 Araneta Cubao Station on Monday as they take advantage of the free train rides implemented by the government starting today, March 28, 2022. #CommuterPatrol".

Below is a screenshot comparison between the falsely shared image (left) and the ABS-CBN News post (right):

Screenshot comparison between the falsely shared image (left) and the ABS-CBN News post (right)

Further reverse image searches of the cards that commenters on the post claimed to have received showed they had been doctored to include the text "12 month free subway rides card".

The images were altered from photos of "Beep" cards posted on online marketplace Carousell as well as a how-to guide on the Top Gear Philippines website (archived link).

Below are screenshot comparisons of the altered images (left) and the original photos (right).

Screenshot comparison of the altered images (left) and the original photo on Carousell (right)
Screenshot comparison of the altered images (left) and the original photo on Top Gear Philippines (right)

AFP has previously debunked false claims spread from imposter Facebook pages here, here and here.

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