While describing the modus operandi of cybercriminals, we have always said that they exploit people’s ‘fear’ and ‘greed’ to dupe them and steal their money.
Both factors can push people into risky behaviour, such as responding to SMS or calls from unknown persons, sharing personal information or downloading an app. Behavioural experts have identified the psychological fear of missing out (FOMO) and its advanced version, the fear of losing out (FOLO), as mental disorders. Often, people are unaware of responding to situations, taking risks and succumbing to the lure or threat from the scamsters due to FOMO or FOLO. For example, somebody holding blue-chip shares, who ought to sell them and book profit based on performance indicators, is afraid and unwilling to do so because he/she thinks the share price will increase as soon as he/she sells it. It is the fear of losing out-FOLO. Many victims of cybercrimes take unwarranted risks out of FOLO.
Here are five common SMS and calls made by cybercriminals to dupe people. Understanding these will help you avoid taking undue risks and you will not lose out on anything.
1. Sextortion Messages/ Video Calls on WhatsApp
A few days ago, our local operator sent a message on WhatsApp alerting everyone that his personal details and photos are ‘stolen’ and the criminals are threatening to make public his morphed photos to all his contacts. Sometimes, the criminals are also sending messages to his contacts saying he is not repaying the money he borrowed from them. He says it is all false and he has become a victim of what is known as the ‘sextortion’ racket. He has filed a complaint with the local police station, and investigations are ongoing. Police asked him to block the numbers from which he has been receiving the calls and messages for extortion. He is also asked to inform all his contacts about the incident and not to respond to any such messages about him from any number.
The point is cases of sextortion have become rampant and anyone who responds to messages or calls from unknown numbers on WhatsApp can easily become a victim.
In all sextortion cases, criminals use the fear factor to extort money from the victim. However, instead of fear, the victim needs to take guidance from someone who knows and understands these issues. Most importantly, without any fear, the victim must file a first information report (FIR) at the nearest police station. This only would ensure that proper action is taken against the criminals.
In one such extortion call, when former central information commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi, was threatened, he disconnected the call and then registered a case at Santacruz police station under Sections 385 and 66(E) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to reports, Mewat region in the tri-junction of Haryana, Rajasthan and UP has fast emerged as the ‘New Jamtara’ of sextortion rackets. “Unlike Kolkata’s burgeoning phishing industry, which has office buildings and call centres, the Mewat scam is a bit of an unstructured cottage industry. Scammers are travelling a lot, especially because many are also truck drivers. They make suspicious phone calls from non-descript highways, using sim cards collected from the road. This is predominantly a leaderless crime racket. There are no kingpins. Anyone with a smartphone and a sim can scam and blackmail.,” says a report from The Print.
Sextortion scammers trap their victims either by luring them through links or video calling, and a few seconds are enough to lay the trap for blackmail—the scammer shows the victim an obscene image or video clip and then frames them for consuming pornography. After that, the blackmailing starts from different numbers. “The third and final stage is to impersonate the police: The scammer pretends to be from the Delhi Police’s cyber crime unit, accuses the victim of watching or distributing pornography, and asks for money to bury the ‘case’,” the report says.
Sextortion SMS or calls are a clear case of FOLO, where the victim believes s/he will lose something if they fail to fulfil the demands from cyber criminals.
2. PAN Update SMS
HDFC Bank is the latest favourite of cybercriminals. They send SMS about blocking an HDFC account if the permanent account number (PAN) card details are not updated. The message also contains a shortened link (to disguise the original link).
Two important things to remember in case you receive any such message: Check the sender. If it has come from a mobile number, then it is definitely a fraud SMS. Secondly, the message will have the first letter capitalised without any reason. For example, the ‘HDFC’ SMS says, “Dear Customer Your HDFC Account has been blocked Today please Update Your PAN CARD”.
Neither HDFC Bank nor any other bank and financial services provider sends a message in this language or manner, never from a mobile number. They all use registered and authentic headers in their SMS messages sent to customers.
By not responding to such messages, you will neither miss anything nor lose anything (read: money).
3. Quick & Bumper Returns on Investment
There are several cases where common people are lured into investing in the stock market, forex (foreign exchange) trade or anything fancy with promises to earn huge returns. A few months ago, a person from Pune was cheated of Rs4.37 crore under the pretext of investing money in forex trading and earning huge returns. The ‘investor’, in this case, was promised a 24% return.
As Moneylife keeps reiterating, if anyone promises investment returns of more than the provident fund’s current interest rate, then be very careful. Also, stay away from financial products you do not understand. For example, if you have no idea how the foreign currency market or trading or crypto trading works, it is better to avoid any ‘investment’ plan that offers higher returns from forex trade or crypto trading.
All such investment traps fall under FOMO, where people think they will miss the opportunity to gain something big.
4. Free Gift Messages
A ‘free gift’ from any big brand or platform like Amazon or Tanishq is the latest gimmick used by criminals to lure potential victims. And it is working—scores of people are being fooled and looted daily.
Almost all messages received on WhatsApp that offer a free gift, subsidy or anniversary giveback are fake and aimed at duping people. These links induce you to part with personal information used for targeted selling and, in some cases, may be totally fraudulent.
These types of messages are clearly FOMO, the fear of missing out (unknown benefits).
So, the next time you receive any such message on WhatsApp, simply delete it. If the sender is a known person, then tell her/ him about the fraudulent nature of these messages. And if the sender is unknown, simply block and report the number to WhatsApp.
5. Electricity Bill SMS
A few months ago, many received SMS about pending electricity bills. This, of course, was a fraud. While police have arrested some criminals behind these frauds, several out in the open still await the target to get trapped.
Deepak Kumar, the chief forest conservator of Uttar Pradesh, was conned of Rs1.23 lakh when he received a message saying that he had not deposited his electricity bills and the connection would be snapped soon. After receiving the SMS, he contacted on the number provided there and was asked to download AnyDesk app and transfer Re1 to update his electricity bill account. However, the moment Mr Kumar did that, cyber fraudsters siphoned Rs25,000 in two transactions and Rs98,512 from his bank account says a report from IANS.
This scam falls under FOLO.
Points To Remember While Dealing with SMS/ Calls from Unknown Numbers
• Genuine SMS messages from banks or service-providers usually contain a sender ID (consisting of their short name) instead of the phone number as the sender.
• Fraudsters also use short URL in their messages. In such cases, the strict rule is never to open any short links.
• It is important to remember that no service-provider will disconnect any service without providing adequate notice of payments due. So, the next time you receive any such message, delete it.
• Nobody, including your bank, will ask you to update KYC or PAN from an unknown number through a link in the SMS. Either block the number or report the caller to the nearest police station or file a complaint on the cybercrime portal of the ministry of home affairs (MHA).
• Remember, nobody provides bumper returns on investment or bonuses or money on insurance policies over the phone. Even if you assume that it is true, better call your financial services-provider and get it clarified.
How Not To Become a Victim
• Do not respond to an unknown caller’s request to visit any portal or click to open any link sent on message (SMS/email) to this person.
• Do NOT click on any link, especially the short URL, shared by anyone.
• Do NOT download any app, other than from the authorised app stores (Google Play store).
• Use a good quality anti-virus (several free apps provide good protection) for protection from viruses, malware, ransomware and remote access.
How To Report Cyberfraud?
Do report cyber crimes to the national cybercrime reporting portal http://cybercrime.gov.in or call the toll-free national helpline number, 1930. To follow on social media: Twitter (@Cyberdost), Facebook (CyberDostI4C), Instagram (cyberdostl4C), Telegram (cyberdosti4c).