Fraud Alert: Social Media Financial Scams
A few days ago, one of my friends, working in a reputed organisation and earning a good salary, received a WhatsApp message offering a job opportunity to earn Rs3,000 per day just by clicking ratings on Google Maps to increase the client's business reputation. This is just one example of the messages sent out by fraudsters and cybercriminals to lure and then dupe gullible people. 
 
In another case, New Delhi-based Ranjana Kaul dialled her bank's customer care number which she found through a Google search. The person answering the call asked her to download the Rust Desk app to redress her grievance. As soon as she did this, she ended up giving access to all her banking information on her mobile to a fraudster, who siphoned Rs5.45 lakh from her bank account. Fortunately for her, the Delhi police traced the money transfers. They arrested two persons from Jharkhand for running fake ads on Google for customer care numbers of various banks to dupe people.
 
In February last year, Delhi-based Samir Gupta was added to a WhatsApp group that claimed to support trading in cryptocurrency with the help of analysts. He was lured to invest and trade on a cryptocurrency exchange from Malaysia. After initial 'success', he was advised to invest more money, but his good luck ended when he tried to withdraw his 'profit' that appeared to run into lakhs of rupees. The fraudsters even tried to con him into paying Rs18 lakh, as transaction advance tax, which he did not pay. After realising that he had been duped, Mr Gupta filed a first information report (FIR) with the police and investigations are going on.
 
These are just a few examples of how easily people fall prey to online financial fraud spread through social media and chat apps. 
 
With a mobile phone in almost every hand, there are myriad options and tricks open to fraudsters to use technology to loot people. The anonymity offered by the Internet, combined with the widespread use of digital payment systems, is making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to curb the fraudulent activities of cyber criminals.
 
Reports indicate that about 300-400 individuals fall victim to sextortion scams daily, with each fraudster earning an average of Rs3,000. Three districts within the Mewat region—Bharatpur (Rajasthan), Nuh (Haryana) and Mathura (Uttar Pradesh)—collectively report over 8,000 cybercrimes a month, resulting in financial losses ranging from Rs1.6 crore to Rs2.4 crore, Delhi police sources told IANS.
 
One of the most prevalent scams is those offering remote work opportunities that pay well for data entry jobs and online calls. These appear to be straightforward job offers and, hence, are an easy way to lure and trap unsuspecting victims, leaving them with financial losses and shattered expectations. Once a victim is hooked and earns some money (which is usually deposited into an online wallet to create the illusion of real income), the fraudsters demand money to take up newer tasks with bigger rewards. Often, the scam continues until the victim leaves such 'higher earnings' in an online wallet; it is only when they attempt to withdraw the money that the scamsters vanish.
 
Cybercriminals are increasingly using Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram to dupe people by offering big payments for ridiculously simple work-from-home jobs. Most messages are like the one received by my friend, and the response should be to block the sender and report the number to WhatsApp. 
 
Fraudsters are also using advertisement tools of a well-known search engine, as well as rented headers, to send bulk SMS, thereby creating a web of deception.
 
Cryptocurrency-based Ponzi schemes that promise astronomical returns have also gained traction, especially among novice investors eager to earn big money using digital currency. The promise of quick, bumper profits has become an easy trap in financial scams that play on the greed of unsuspecting victims.
 
Last year, in a massive crackdown against organised cyber financial crimes, the central bureau of investigation (CBI), under its operation Chakra-II, unearthed an international fraud worth over hundreds of crores of rupees and a cyber-enabled impersonation fraud.
 
"The fraudsters allegedly exploited various social media platforms and their advertisement portals, encrypted chat applications, and SMS to entice victims with promises of lucrative part-time jobs through Ponzi schemes and multi-level marketing initiatives. To evade detection, these criminals utilised a multi-layered approach involving UPI accounts, cryptocurrencies, and international money transfers," a CBI official told IANS.
 
According to security services-provider Avast, social media sites and chat apps have become hotbeds for fraudulent scams. "Generally speaking, they (fraudsters) use popular figures or well-known companies to try to trick people into thinking they are genuine or trustworthy. If you see an ad where someone is offering you free money, it is probably a scam. Do not share your email or phone number carelessly. You could be hounded by other scams going forward."
 
No doubt, in today's interconnected world, you cannot stay away or ignore social media which plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and disseminating information. Social media platforms and chat apps have become essential for individuals, governments, and enterprises, offering a powerful medium for communication and engagement. However, its widespread influence comes with significant security risks and, most of the time, financial loss for individuals.
 
So, how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of financial fraud originating from social media and chat apps? While there are no foolproof methods, here are a few suggestions to help you avoid online financial fraud...
 
1. Never share your personal information and financial details with anyone, including the government. Effectively use the 'need to know' system and proper verification while sharing data with authentic government agencies or departments. Be extra cautious about sharing personal information on social media or with an unknown caller.
 
2. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA). Cybercriminals love people who are lazy about protecting themselves. This is where MFA comes in handy. The most famous example of MFA is how we use our plastic cards and personal identification numbers (PINs) for transactions. You can add one security layer, like a one-time passcode (OTP). Apart from financial service-providers, others like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and X (Twitter) also offer MFA for login.
 
3. Be cautious when clicking links or downloading attachments from unexpected or suspicious emails, messages, or websites.
 
4. Be sceptical of unsolicited communication, even if it appears to be from a trusted source. On WhatsApp, you can easily report and block a number from which you have received such communication (like the job opportunity message received by my friend). Just scroll down the WhatsApp message, and you will find relevant options to report and block that number.
 
5. Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorised transactions and immediately report any discrepancies to the bank or financial institution.
 
Stay Alert, Stay Safe!
 
How To Report Cyber Fraud?
Do report cybercrimes to the National Cyber Crime 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). 
 
 
If the fraud is related to your bank account, you need to immediately send an email to the official email ID of your branch (you can find it on the bank's website or your passbook) with a copy to the bank's customer care. Even if you have called the official number for customer care, you must still send an email describing your conversation with the bank executive, along with the time, date, and duration of the call. This will be helpful if you face a liability issue with the bank.
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