Wednesday, 20 October 2004  
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Weed out bogus docs

The 1:4 ratio between genuine and qualified medical practitioners and quacks or "bogus doctors" in the country, should be viewed with utmost concern by the authorities and the public. As we reported yesterday, whereas the country possesses only 10,000 MBBS-qualified medical officers, Sri Lanka is awash with medical quacks, running into at least 40,000.

While it was always suspected that Sri Lanka had an enormous number of such quacks, what is new in our lead story yesterday is the staggering figure - 40,000. If the health status of the people is declining, then, the growing ranks of bogus medical practitioners should be regarded as a chief causative factor of the problem.

As the General Secretary of the GMOA whom we quoted yesterday pointed out, the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) should bring the country's medical practitioners under closer surveillance for the purpose of weeding out the quacks from the qualified medical practitioners. The Sri Lanka Medical Council Orginance needs to be amended to invest the SLMC with the relevant investigative and punitive powers. There is no getting away from the need for a firm crackdown on medical charlatans.

As we see it, the health authorities, inclusive of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, have allowed the 'grass to grow under their feet', on this score. The average patient or layman cannot be expected to differentiate between a qualified medical practitioner and a bogus one, particular if the latter rigs him or herself up with the necessary trappings - large sign boards, carrying registered numbers, qualifications etc. If the patient is in dire need he cannot be expected to be very discriminating.

However, the health authorities and the relevant professional bodies, such as the SLMC, are in a better position to detect the pretender and expose him. Accordingly, the hands of these authorities should be strengthened and empowered to round-up and weed out bogus medical practitioners. It is relevant to point out that lawsuits are long drawn out and would prove quite ineffective in this situation.

The SLMC should be sufficiently empowered to take the necessary remedial measures without much ado.

In passing, it needs to be mentioned that a conducive climate for fraudulent practices of numerous kinds, has steadily grown up in Sri Lanka over the years. Public awareness on these issues is minimal and even if it is substantial, doesn't always result in an effective public outcry against the relevant abuse. Consequently, fraud and deceit flourishes.

Such complacency is already proving to be self-defeating. There is no alternative to rigorous, punitive measures to unmasking fraudsters and bringing them to book.

Identity theft

You can be 'all you can be' online. If you are a 50-year-old male, you can pretend to be a 20-year-old girl. No one can see you and any identity is yours for the asking. It's all fun, one might think.

But away from the bizarre world of chatrooms, such 'identity theft' is not at all fun. It's criminal, in fact. Online theft of financial information from individuals has become one of the fastest-growing non-violent crimes in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the technology research house IDC. In other words, it is a white-collar crime that has no limits. One can go very far in cyberspace.

Financial identity theft - known as "phishing" - could deter people from engaging in electronic commerce and companies should take steps to protect customers if the online finance industry is to succeed, IDC said.

Phishing involves the use of fraudulent emails which trick people into giving away private financial information, such as account numbers and personal identification numbers, allowing fraudsters access to their accounts. Criminals send millions of phishing emails everyday with the aim of prompting recipients for their personal and financial information.

The emails are eerily similar, save for the details of the sender and his proposition. The writer identifies himself/herself as a child of a wealthy oil magnate who has left millions of dollars in a bank account and would you (the recipient of the email) be kind enough to act as an intermediary to get the money ? All he needs is your bank account number so that the money can be transferred. Countless people, lured by the prospect of a 'cut' from a hoard of millions of dollars, have fallen for this ploy. It is next to impossible to catch these fraudsters afterwards.

E-commerce is a fast growing segment of the Internet. The advantages are obvious; one need not go out to buy goods from the supermarket or check the bank account. It is all too easy for someone in Colombo to order a book from Amazon in New York.But there's a catch - credit card and other personal information have to be divulged online.

Most people squirm at the thought of giving their credit card numbers online, though the latest e-commerce sites promise hacker-proof encryption and security. Still, there is no guarantee that the credit card numbers would not be misused or intercepted.

Resourceful criminals do use others' credit card numbers to order goods online and vanish long before the authorities realise what is going on. Banks and credit card companies lose billions of dollars every year from fraudulent online transactions.

Preventing online fraud will be a Herculean task that requires greater international cooperation.

Pizza to SL - order online

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www.peaceinsrilanka.org

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