“Here's an opportunity to earn Rs 5,000 daily by working from home.” This was the message a friend of Chennai-based cyber security expert Pranav Venkat got through SMS.
An investigation that started out of curiosity led to a Chinese scam that is leading millions of people, including Malayalees, to gamble in the name of 'work-from-home' schemes.
Gambling is becoming more prevalent in a new form — through a colour-number prediction game that involves placing money and betting on the colour and numbers that will appear on a web platform at a given time. The bet is on green, red and violet colours. The game promises you will get many times more money than what you will bet if you get the prediction right.
Those bringing more people to the game get a certain 'referral' amount. And, if those who are brought through 'referrals' win, then the person who introduced them gets a small share as well.
Pranav explains how the investigation progressed
Zuckerberg's picture and jewellery website
You first reach a fake website that is in the name of a media. It will make an offer that says you will be able to earn Rs 50,000 in just three days.
In the website that Pranav visited, a photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his quote about work from home were added to make it seem credible.
A detailed investigation revealed that all the sites were from China. Evidence about the sites being from China were found even in the error messages and the source code.
"I noticed 18 web addresses containing the same content. Most of them are in the name of jewellers. There were four fake web addresses in the name of a prominent jewellery group in Kerala," said Pranav.
"I later realised that these were dummy websites and that they all led to colour-prediction sites." The jewellery group is involved in a legal battle against these sites.
It’s sweet at first, then turns bitter
The game has been programmed in such a way that those who are new to the game will win in the first two rounds. Encouraged by the 'wins', they continue betting with the money earned in the first few rounds. They will also bring more friends to the site.
Since they are winning, they will bet bigger sums of money. But as the sum increases, the predictions will start going wrong. In a nutshell, the whole money will be lost.
There are hundreds of Telegram and WhatsApp groups that have sprung up claiming to help people make correct predictions. Members in the groups claim to have a lot of experience playing such games and say that they are there to help those who are new by providing clues to each game.
Initially, the ‘clues’ would work well, but later they would be all wrong. But, then, coming to think of it, why would they offer free service to make us rich?
The biggest twist is that the web addresses keep changing. The money is kept in a wallet on the gaming platform itself. But one fine morning the whole site will disappear, taking all the money with it. Since there is no customer care number given, whom will you call to ask what happened?
Police need cyber weapons
As cyber frauds take new forms, the police seem ill-equipped to deal with them.
In Kerala, there are cyberdomes in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode and cyber police stations at Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Thrissur to deal with such crimes. Besides, there is a cyber cell at each district police headquarters and a large number of police officials are provided cyber training. There is also c0c0n, an annual international conference to review changes and crimes in the cyber world that is held in partnership with Kerala Police.
Despite all this, when a person who had a close shave with an online scam while looking for a data entry job went to the police and complained about the threat of online fraud, the response he got was: you didn’t lose money, so why worry?
This is the attitude of the police. Even when there is a serious online crime, their response is either there has been no complaint filed or no money has been lost. Even when that is not the case, they claim helplessness saying the crime happened through the ‘dark web’ and nothing much can be done.
Kerala will not be free from online scams without the police equipping themselves with the cyber weapons needed to fight crimes of the new age.
Scam in the name of data entry job
There are a number of reputable companies that offer genuine data entry jobs online. But for every such company, there are 10 that commit fraud and cheat people by claiming to offer such jobs. Here are some bitter experiences of people who had to deal with such scammers. This should serve as a warning to those who are looking for data entry work after losing jobs due to COVID. There are Malayalees also behind such scams.
PV Aneesh of Thazhe Chovva in Kannur was looking for a data entry job in an online business app in April. A company demanded a registration fee of Rs 3,000. When he told them the amount can be deducted from his salary, he was told that wouldn’t be possible. The phone conversation took place in proper Malayalam. Through WhatsApp, they sent him screenshots of the payments made by others.
Another group demanded Rs 2,000. The lady who called demanded the money in Malayalam. When he asked her if this wasn’t a fraud, she got angry. Then there were constant threat calls. One of the persons who spoke on behalf of this group was the same individual who had spoken from the first ‘company’. It was evident that it was the same gang behind these scams.
He lodged a complaint with the police and gave them the phone numbers from which he got the calls, but they took no action.
An Aluva native, who did not want to be named, found a data entry 'job' online through a popular job website. He then entered into a contract with a company in Punjab to produce 1,000 captchas (a code containing letters, numbers and images that is required to be entered as part of security to enter important sites) daily. The captchas had to be uploaded to the company's app. But since the app crashed frequently, only 500 captchas could be uploaded.
With this, those behind the app started issuing threats. They initially demanded Rs 10,000 as compensation. There were threats in Hindi, English and Malayalam. Gradually, the compensation amount they demanded increased. When he realised there was no escape, he asked a friend to lie to them that he was dead. That's when the phone calls stopped.
A resident of Nalanchira in Thiruvananthapuram received a lawyer's notice stating that the data entry work given to him online was not completed within 10 days as 'agreed'. He panicked when he started receiving constant threatening calls saying he had violated a contract agreement. He was told to pay Rs 10,000 as compensation. He finally approached a lawyer when he felt he had no other option. That’s when he realised that the ‘legal’ notice was fake.
General nature of the "data entry" fraud
Day 1: Fraudsters promise data entry jobs that can earn Rs 25,000 in 10 days. They ask for a copy of the Aadhaar card, photo and scanned signature of those who show interest.
Day 2: They instruct you to download a software to do the data entry job. The software is allowed to be used from only one computer. There are also strict instructions to ensure 90% accuracy in work. However, the truth is that this software does not work properly.
Day 3: A fake contract document that seems to have been made on a Rs 100 stamp paper arrives in the email. The ‘contract’ lays out the condition that if the work is not completed within 10 days, Rs 10,000 will be deducted. Your signature that you had scanned and sent will be attached at the bottom of the document. What you will not realise is that the amount of job given will be so huge that you will not be able to complete it even if you work all day on all the 10 days.
Day 10: There will be phone calls and emails saying the work was not completed in 10 days and that you will have to pay Rs 10,000 as stated in the contract.
Day 15: If you don’t pay or reply to the emails, you will receive a fake legal notice in your email or by post. In addition, there will be constant phone calls and SMSes. Many pay Rs 10,000 fearing there will be repercussions as they had signed a 'contract' on a stamp paper.
Don’t fear the notice
The fraudsters send you a fake contract document that is prepared without your consent but which will have your signature attached. Just like the contract, the company is also fake. The contract has no legal validity. Therefore, there is nothing to be afraid of.
(Contributed by: K Jayaprakash Babu, Ajay Ben, Jikku Varghese Jacob. Compiled by: A Jeevan Kumar.)