Even as we all are settling into the digital world, a primary issue that remains unresolved is knowing whether you are interacting with an authentic or genuine person, entity or organisation. Technology advances are allowing cybercriminals to get better and more efficient at impersonation—whether it is a person on social media or impersonating government websites—to cheat people. They also manipulate search engine optimisation (SEO) to ensure that they appear among the top search results on the internet, sometimes ahead of the genuine websites. No wonder many people, especially those seeking to register for a government scheme, fall victim to such scamsters.
In this column, I plan to discuss this and two fraud cases in the Mumbai suburban region. One is a loan fraud case where the Thane police arrested three people for duping borrowers under the pretext of providing a pre-sanctioned loan. And, in another case of similar cheating, the Dahisar police managed to recover Rs8.5 lakh from a fraudster who cheated a woman after offering her admission to a foreign law college.
Bogus Websites Offering Govt Schemes
Search engines like Google are a good place to quickly find information on any subject. Still, the increasing misuse of SEO by cyber criminals makes it difficult for people to get authentic information or links to a genuine portal unless they are careful.
In a Twitter post, Abhijeet (@The_realist000) recently wrote about how fake websites often appear as top search results. After collecting basic information from those who access these websites, the fraudsters behind this game start demanding money under one or the other pretext.
Abhijeet shared the example of how the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Energy Suraksha and Utthan Maha Abhiyan (PM-Kusum) scheme is replicated on some bogus websites for duping people. He says, “After receiving details, these people call and provide basic information about the scheme. They also inform you that it would cost you Rs51,000 to install a solar power pump for agriculture. They also ask for bank details and other documents.”
“At the same time, they tell you about making a payment of Rs5,600 as registration, out of which they promise Rs5,000 would be refunded. It never happens. Their aim is only to garner money from gullible farmers. Several farmers have become victims of such bogus websites who are misusing names of government schemes,” he says in his tweet.
Even the Union ministry of new and renewable energy has issued a warning about some fake websites offering solar-power pumps to farmers and collecting information and registration charges. Some portals mentioned by the ministry include kusumyojanaonline.in.net, pmkisankusumyojana.co.in, onlinekusumyojana.org.in and pmkisamkusumyojana.com, among others.
To ensure you are accessing a genuine website of the Indian government and to know details of various schemes, it is best to visit the official portal of the concerned ministry.
If you do not know the web address, then use India.gov.in portal to find out the authentic portal of the concerned ministry or department. India.gov.in also provides information about various schemes offered by the government. Here is the link that provides detailed information about PM-KUSUM scheme https://www.india.gov.in/spotlight/pm-kusum-pradhan-mantri-kisan-urja-suraksha-evam-utthaan-mahabhiyan-scheme.
Loan on Phone
The Thane police arrested three people for allegedly duping borrowers by pretending to be bank officials. According to a report from Mid-Day, these fraudsters acting as bankers called loan seekers, informing them that their loan had been sanctioned. They then asked for Rs30,000 as processing charges to clear the loan file.
In a case registered with Manpada police station, the victim reportedly paid nearly Rs7.34 lakh to the criminals and filed a complaint when he realised he had been duped. Shekhar Bagde, senior inspector at Manpada police station, told the newspaper that, based on a tip-off, one accused was held from Shimla, and his interrogation led to the arrests of his associates from Noida and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
He is quoted as saying, “The modus operandi was to open bank accounts using fake documents and then to trap people who are on the lookout for loans. They would tell the victims that loans had been sanctioned and would keep fleecing them by way of fees and charges, some non-existent.”
“The Rs7.34 lakh taken from the complainant has been recovered, while five mobile phones and ATM cards have been seized from the accused,” Mr Bagde says.
Admission to Foreign College Costs Rs8.50 Lakh
A woman from Dahisar, near Mumbai, was lucky to get her money back due to quick action by the police. In this case, assistant police inspector (API) Ankush Dandge and constable Shrikant Deshpande from the cyber cell tracked the bank account number where the money was transferred. Police approached the bank, asking them to freeze the account.
The woman was offered admission to a US-based institute by a person she met at an international job fair. She paid Rs8.50 lakh to the agent in multiple transactions. “However, after this, the accused stopped responding to her calls and messages. The complainant realised she was duped and approached Dahisar police on 21 December 2022,” says a report from Mid-Day.
Police also found that the bank account had more money than was transferred by the woman. Pravin Patil, senior inspector at Dahisar police station, told the newspaper, “We suspect that the accused has cheated others using the same modus operandi.”
The woman, in this case, was, indeed, lucky to get back her money, as reported. However, in case you come across someone who offers admission to some big foreign college or institute for a fee, be alert and stay away.