There is no school, there is no college, and many don’t have a job. Lockdown has confined millions to their homes who spend a lot of time on social media to fight boredom. And they become the target for most current scams perpetrated by fraudsters using social media.
Many, especially those without jobs, get lured by promises of making lakhs in a single day and end up paying a heavy price.
The fraudsters come in many forms with the aim of cheating people of their money. They come in many guises — as a policeman or a soldier, as a charity worker, in the name of customer care employees, and even in the form of people offering friendship or romance. Here are some events that should open your eyes and make you aware of the dangers that lurk online.
‘I am the DGP, please help me with Rs 15,000’
If the ‘SI of your area’ were to approach you and say, ‘I need Rs 1,000 for an emergency’ would you not give the money? You would perhaps because the person asking is not just any stranger. He is an SI, an officer should be trusted because of his uniform that carries his name, number and the government badge.
That being the case what if the 'state police chief (DGP)' or any other 'high-ranking officials' or 'soldiers' were to send you a friend request on Facebook? You would in all likelihood accept it, isn't it? How could you refuse? The 'DGP' is not issuing an order; instead he is only requesting you to be his friend.
The fact is the general public has been receiving many such ‘friend requests’ from ‘IPS officers’. If you accept the request and become a friend, you will be sent an account number the next day with a message saying the 'IPS officer' is facing an emergency and if you could help with Rs 10,000.
Many of us will 'help’ by giving the money thinking that the person in uniform is trustworthy. But the money we send in the name of that IPS 'friend' in Kerala goes to the account of some fraudulent gang in North India. Once they receive our 'help', they send friend requests to new people by assuming a new IPS identity.
It is not just the common man. These 'officers' ask their colleagues in the police force also for 'help' through Facebook Messenger. Many police officers, including SIs, in Thiruvananthapuram have lost money after responding to such requests.
The original officers are now being forced to warn people by issuing statements that say, “That’s not me, don't believe any messages that come in my name.”
This is the only way out, even for officials ranked as highly as Jail DGP Rishiraj Singh. Many dignitaries in the capital got a message from a fake profile in his name that said he needed Rs 15,000! The police could not do anything much in the case. Rishiraj Singh said that the phone number was tracked to Assam.
When an investigation was done with the help of the Assam police, it turned out that the real owner of the phone number knew nothing about the incident. Eventually, the probe, as usual, hit a dead end in the place that is the hotbed of cyber-fraud, Jharkhand.
'Rs 10,000 for ICU treatment'
K Madan Babu, a writer and under secretary in the finance department, had a similar experience last month.
“On September 22, around 11:30pm, my friend Ram Mohan Paliyath asked me through Facebook Messenger if I had any other ID on the social medium. He said he was receiving friend requests from the other ID. I said no, I don’t have any other ID,” Babu said. “I continued to get phone calls and messages from friends until 2am that night. Some said they had accepted the friend request. That's when I came to know that a new account has been created with my picture and my name.”
Babu said the fraudsters first sent friend requests to his friends. “Afterwards, the friends got a message saying I was in the ICU and that I needed money urgently. The amount requested was as much as Rs 10,000. The message would then say that the amount would be returned the next day,” he said. “I then had to write on my real Facebook page that fraudsters had created a fake profile in my name and warned people not to respond to any messages in my name that said I needed money.”
But, by then, a friend had already sent Rs 10,000. The fraudster had given the phone number and a Paytm account of one Manoj Kumar, a native of Haryana.
“I informed Facebook about the fraud and also lodged a complaint at the Palarivattom police station in Kochi. The friend who lost the money also filed a complaint,” Babu said. “After I posted the complaint lodged with the police on my real Facebook account, my friends stopped getting the friend requests. This shows that we are being constantly monitored,” he said.
Cake for an Army ‘Major’
About a month ago, Sufiya Faris, who bakes cakes and sells them, got a call on her phone from a ‘soldier’ Sahil Kumar for 10 kg of red velvet cake.
The caller said he was from Kanyakumari and that one of his friends would collect the cake directly from Thiruvananthapuram. However, Sufiya said 10 kg would not be possible and that she could make 3 kg if he was okay with that. He then asked her to make a 5 kg cake and said the advance amount would be sent through Google Pay.
“I then got another call from the same number. He said, ‘Our Major will call you and you will have to talk to him politely. The payment will be made only after that.’ He demanded my ID proof. At first I thought that since they are from the Army, they are seeking my ID proof to ensure I am trustworthy. But my husband got suspicious and asked me to cancel the order,” she said. “When I called the number back to inform that I was cancelling the order, the voice became stern. He said he had made the payment and that it should be returned immediately. But not a single rupee had come to my account.”
He claimed to have paid Rs 4,250. "When I said I would not make the payment without getting confirmation from the bank, the person started threatening me. I then got continuous calls from many numbers threatening me that I am being tracked and that the police would come to my home. After a while, the ‘Major’ called and continued with the threats. When I asked for payment proof, I was sent a screenshot of money sent to my number via Paytm,” she said.
It was only through the intervention of a friend in the police force that she realised it was a scam, she said.
Many home bakers in Thiruvananthapuram have got similar calls from this person. He would first place an order and then call back later saying the order has been cancelled and demand a refund of the money that he would say he had paid.
Advance payment fraud
A Google reverse image search done with the photo of the person in an Army attire that was displayed in the WhatsApp account of the impersonator called Sahil revealed a number of scams being perpetrated through Olx in this fashion.
The first step of such fraudsters is to put out an ad in Olx saying they work in the Army and that they have to dispose of their vehicles, including bikes and cars, as they are being transferred. They would quote a cheap price for the vehicles.
They would demand an advance through Google Pay from those who would show interest. They would say the deal will go ahead only if the advance is paid. Many would pay a small amount as advance thinking the person would not be a cheat since he is from the 'Army'. But they would end up losing the money.
How to safeguard yourself from Facebook fraud
If you get any message in the name of an acquaintance via messenger asking for money, call the acquaintance on the phone to make sure if the request is genuine.
Make sure that the profile of the person asking for money is not fake.
If you notice a bogus account, file an 'impersonation' complaint with Facebook. If the real account holder and many friends make a complaint, the account will be removed by Facebook itself.
File a complaint with the District Police Chief or the police stations concerned.
(Contributors: K Jayaprakash Babu, Ajay Ben, Jiku Varghese Jacob. Compiled by: A Jeevan Kumar)