Fraud Alert: Beware! That Inspector on WhatsApp Call May Be a Scammer!
Last week, a former colleague called to seek guidance on handling calls she had received on WhatsApp from a 'police inspector'. She says the 'police inspector' told her that they had arrested a few youngsters in a rape case and wanted to know the whereabouts of her daughter. She found it fishy and disconnected the call, only to receive another call from another 'police inspector' who spoke in Hindi in a threatening tone. She cut the call and contacted me. I told her to block these numbers immediately and, if there were any further calls, it would be better if she approached her local police station and filed a complaint. People should also post fewer family videos on social media, which are often found to be misused by criminals to impersonate (read: deepfake) during such extortion calls. There is one more solution which I will discuss shortly.
 
This type of fraud video calls on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Skype or Telegram are not new. Criminals have been using it regularly in various ways, including sextortion (read: blackmailing), seeking bribes (read: extortion) to release someone from fictitious 'custody' or dropping 'criminal charges' or courier scams.
 
The modus operandi used by criminals in these frauds is to threaten with dire sequences if the victim fails to follow their instructions (pay money, basically). 
 
One Pradip Vishnu Sahane posted on X about receiving a call from ‘Mumbai police cybercrime’ threatening to file a first information report (FIR) against him and seeking a 'virtual statement' to avoid arrest!
 
 
In an advisory, @Cyberdost, the cyber-safety and cybersecurity awareness handle maintained by the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), says, "Scammers often pose as police officers, using intimidating tactics to extort money by falsely accusing your loved ones of serious crimes."
 
A few months ago, while addressing a seminar at Moneylife Foundation, Balkrishna Wagh, retired assistant police commissioner (ACP) of Maharashtra police told the audience that real police never use video calls from any platform like WhatsApp or Skype to speak with citizens. "The local police need to record all relevant details and obtain documentary evidence (from the victim or complainant). They may also call the victim to the police station to record a statement and register a first information report (FIR). Police will then investigate the incident and may take help from the cyber cell if required."
 
There is also a new type of scam going on where scamsters are (mis)using names like the department of telecom (DoT), telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI), Bombay High Court (HC) and Mumbai police.
 
For the calls allegedly from DoT and TRAI, the caller, using digital tools and interactive voice response (IVR) systems to sound like a professional (call centre), threatens to block the number unless the recipient dials some digits. For example, in one such call, the recipient was asked to dial 9 during the call.
 
 
For calls in the name of Bombay HC or Mumbai police, the recipients are asked to dial 0. 
 
   
 
While many of those who received such calls disconnected the calls, Saurav Das, a journalist, went along with the scammers and played the game for nearly 30 minutes (Warning: please do not do this on your own!), finally to tell them that he is the nephew of Dawood! "Dawood Ibrahim. He's my chacha (uncle)".
 
On a serious note, Mr Das warns that the scammers are now a lot more sophisticated in their tactics. "I don't see a reason why my parents, the older generation, won't fall for this. I bought the entire skit for 30 mins."
 
One Vinay Rao (@wizardofid) has an entirely different story. He obtained photocopies of some of his documents from a nearby shop and then received a phone call. The caller told him that his Aadhaar number would be blocked in two hours and he should dial 9. "Stupid as I am, I click 9. Guy on the line says he's from ‘DoT’ and that he has received communication from Mumbai police to confirm ownership of a number and that I have multiple FIRs against me in Mumbai(?!). For a phone number that sent lewd messages, and get this.. a walkie-talkie pips in with a money laundering case ‘of national importance’. Then I cut... (They) knew my PAN and one bank too. Asked for skype ID to show me FIR."
 
 
Remaining alert, Auditya Venkatesh (@AudiPhotography) managed to avoid becoming a victim of a courier scam that started with someone calling him from BlueDart! They read him the regular script about missing a parcel and asked to dial 9 to speak with Mumbai police and customs. 
 
 
While dialling a number as told by the caller seems to be an easy solution or harmless activity for most users, it may have its own consequences. For example, by dialling 9 or 0, you may be giving consent or permission for something you do not know. This includes consenting to share your personal information from your mobile device or to allow the installation of an app (most probably malware) on the device. 
 
The primary solution for such calls is to disconnect without pressing any digit on your mobile handset. Also, never answer calls from unknown numbers. If the caller really needs to speak with you, he will call again. The majority of spammers will never make a second call on the same number. 
 
Having said that, here are some tips to block unknown callers on your mobile phones...
 
1. On WhatsApp, go to Settings> Privacy> Calls> Silence Unknown Callers> Slide it to turn green
 
2. On an Android phone, go to Call Settings > Block Numbers > Block Calls from Unknown Numbers (You can still see the blocked (declined) numbers in your calling history. Tap on the number, go to (i) and manually block that particular unknown number.)
 
3. On iPhone, go to Settings > Phone >Silences Unknown Callers> Turn it ON (You will get a notification about the all, though). You can then press (i) on the right side of the number for more, scroll down and tap on block caller.)
 
There is one more medium to report suspected fraud communication, including calls, SMS or WhatsApp messages. You can visit the Chakshu portal operated under the SancharSaathi website by the department of telecom (DoT) to report suspected fraud communication. Here is the link https://sancharsaathi.gov.in/sfc/Home/sfc-complaint.jsp .
 
You need to select the medium of suspected fraud communication (call/SMS/WhatsApp) and then share details of the communication. You can choose the category, based on the type of fraud communication you received. For example, if someone is posing as a police inspector to threaten and extort money, you can select the 'impersonation as govt official/relative' category. 
 
You also need to attach a screenshot, date and time and a brief of the suspected communication. You need to share your name and mobile number. Before submitting the complaint, you need to verify your mobile number using a one-time passcode (OTP) and captcha code (letters). After submission, you will receive a complaint number.   
 
 
Here are a few more suggestions that will help you avoid such frauds...
 
1 If you receive a call or any communication claiming to be from a law enforcement agency (LEA) or government authority, verify the identity of the sender. Look up the official contact information for the relevant LEA and contact them directly to confirm the legitimacy of the communication. For example, if the caller says he is from Maharashtra crime investigation department (CID), then search for the official website and call the numbers provided on the official website https://mahacid.gov.in/contactus .
 
2 Be sceptical if someone messages or calls you with a claim that you or your near and dear ones have committed a crime, especially if they demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or 'settle' the matter. Fraudsters often use fear and intimidation to manipulate victims. 
 
3 Remain calm and think twice or thrice before following the caller's instructions. Remember, cybercriminals create a sense of urgency to pressure victims into making impulsive decisions (making payments). Take your own sweet time to assess the situation and verify the legitimacy of the claims.
 
4 Never pay online or through wallets (Paytm or Gpay, for example) to someone who contacts you unexpectedly and demands money to avoid arrest or legal consequences. Law enforcement agencies do not operate in this manner and would never demand payment in this manner.
 
Remember, the digital realm is as vast as it is vulnerable. Hence, constant vigilance and preparedness are your best allies in this ongoing battle against cybercrime.
 
Stay Informed, Stay Safe!
Comments
sundarbtw
3 months ago
With a strong kyc at banks all nonsense can be stopped at once. Why cant they do a video recorded KYC at banks afresh. I don't understand what is stopping them.
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