Technology is a double-edged sword; unless the user has good intentions, it can end up in a blood bath—not necessarily in terms of physical harm, but it could decimate one’s finances and cause immense mental trauma. All of us have read innumerable news reports and social media posts about people being duped by scammers or messages that are ostensibly from banks, financial service-providers or key utility companies. This telecalling or messaging menace has turned increasingly more sophisticated over time.
Fraudsters are now obtaining and using landline phones and intelligent voice responses (IVR) technology for spamming almost every mobile subscriber nationwide.
Unfortunately, India still does not have an effective grievance redressal mechanism for customers. Sector regulators are supposed to play a vital role in protecting consumers, but most fall short or simply do not care about implementing effective redress systems. One regulator has virtually said that resolving consumer complaints is not its job!
Yes, you guessed it right. It is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that does not take any cognizance of individual complaints from telecom subscribers. The TRAI portal, under its frequently asked questions (FAQs) on consumer complaints , says, “TRAI Act, 1997 does not envisage handling of individual consumer complaints by TRAI. As per the Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007, in case a consumer has a complaint, the first step is to register the complaint at the toll-free call centre number of the service provider and obtain a docket number, confirming registration of the complaint.”
In short, consumers must take up their complaints with their respective service-providers, even if the complaint is against them, or perhaps approach consumer courts.
Interestingly, while TRAI remains in its ivory tower and ignores complaints, the department of telecom (DoT) at least shows the courtesy of responding. Unfortunately, it is a standard response: “Your message has been forwarded to the concerned telecom services provider (TSP)/division for necessary action.”
Consequently, the number of spam calls hawking personal loans, credit cards, and many other things, as well as scam calls from fraudsters, have increased exponentially. With individual data being freely sold without punitive consequences, spam messages inundate people’s phones. There exists an app called TRAI DND (do not disturb). Unfortunately, an app is not a regulator and can only act as a facilitator by forwarding details of spam calls and SMSs to the central registry number 1909 in a specified format.
Barring the few cases where the number of the caller or SMS sender is available and thus can be disconnected, there is no other action taken against the telemarketers or spammers reported on the app.
Most often, the app blindly accepts standard replies provided by spammers, who may be using an SMS header obtained from a TSP. For example, I used to receive several SMS from a portal selling old items, with a header of ‘IM-Selold’. Before receiving these spam messages, I had not even heard of its name, so there was no question of me using any service they offered. Yet, when I complained from the DND app, I was told this was a ‘service SMS/call’!
Spammers are now using new methods for their nefarious activities, including setting up call centres and obtaining landline phone numbers. You may be aware that buying a new SIM (subscriber identity module) card is simple, but obtaining a landline is time-consuming and involves scrutiny, including verification of the premises where it would be installed. Yet, fraudsters are able to bypass this scrutiny and obtain landline phones for their fraud call centres.
Earlier this week, a surprise raid by the officers of the Bidhannagar police commiserate unearthed unaccounted cash worth around Rs4 crore seized from a fake call centre in the Rajarhat-Newtown area on the outskirts of Kolkata. The police suspect that the arrested persons were also involved in illegal hawala transactions besides running the fake call centre.
A police officer told IANS that through this call centre, these persons mainly targeted elderly citizens in different parts of the globe. “We suspect the arrested persons are part of an international forgery racket. We will interrogate them to collect information on their partners and masterminds in this illegal trade,” the officer says.
Similarly, the cybercrime branch of the Gurugram police busted a fake stock trading call centre and arrested 13 people, including two foreign nationals. This fake call centre was involved in duping a man of Rs1.6 crore by luring him to invest in the stock market, cryptocurrency, and international share market.
These fraudsters then scam the victims by making them invest in fake trading websites—Lexa Trade and Grow Line in the name of investing in the stock market, cryptocurrency and international share market by putting advertisements and pop-ups on Facebook, Instagram and social networking sites, police told IANS.
Some of the call centres are using IVRs for calling and spamming mobile subscribers with telemarketing. Many of them are operating from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. For example, fraudsters are using landline phone numbers from Ahmedabad, Indore, Lucknow and even Nashik for IVR-based telemarketing.
This number 079-35282894 is from Ahmedabad and the number check on Truecaller shows it as a spam call for SBI credit card. A similar series number 079-35282884 is noted as a spam call for loan fraud. Another number, 0731-6197022 is from Indore and is used for investment and health check spam.
Mumbai landline phones are not far behind. A number 022-50044270 uses IVR for personal loans. Another number 022-68535246 is mentioned as ‘fraud’, ‘survey’ and ‘card payment reminders’ on Truecaller. Hyderabad is not far behind. A number 040-71320226 is used for marketing fraudulent personal loans in the name of State Bank of India (SBI).
One number from Nashik, 0253-6913263, shows as a financial service in the name of Bajaj Finance Ltd. However, the telecaller is selling personal loans and cards from DBS. Lucknow is also on the list of such automated IVR calls using the landline. The number 0522-7187781 is used for a personal loan through IVR.
The IVR message asked the mobile users to apply for a loan or get a credit card by pressing either 1 or 2. This is a type of blanket consent, where the customer simply doest not know any details of the loan or card being offered. Further, using the blanket consent the lender or card issuer would start calling and demanding KYC documents to complete the sale. Such type of blank consent has severe impact on the financial life of the customer.
Is there any solution for getting rid of telemarketing SMS or calls? Unfortunately, nothing within the ambit of TRAI or its rules and regulations. In any case, TRAI is more interested in protecting TSPs than consumers. So, it will never take any action against any TSPs.
A few years ago, one mobile subscriber had won compensation of Rs3 lakh from Airtel after filing a case in the Maharashtra state consumer commission. Shashikant Ganga, a Mumbai-based lawyer, had filed a complaint about receiving text messages despite having opted for the do not disturb (DND) facility. After hearing both parties, the state commission had awarded Rs3 lakh to Mr Ganga and asked Airtel to pay this amount within 60 days, says a report from Times of India.
But then, how many subscribers will approach the consumer courts? It means we, as consumers, are on our own and have to suffer the telemarketing menace and, thus, get cheated, sometimes (only if you respond and share your banking and personal information with the caller).
Until there are effective mechanisms, avoid answering or responding to calls and SMS from unknown people or numbers that are not in your phonebook. In any case, if the unknown person needs to connect with you, he/she will call a second time, and then you can respond. Remember, most telecallers do not call again if there is no response. Source: moneylife.in