These days, the government's answer to fixing all wrongdoings and violations is to find a technical solution. It does not matter if the solution is logical or not. In the past few years, every government department and regulator has launched, what they believe, are massive, miraculous solutions and publicised them with a media blitzkrieg that is pitched to ordinary citizens as a series of masterstrokes after another.
For example, the Union government launched FASTag without even ensuring that basic infrastructure was in place and all consumers had a chance to acquire these tags. Instead, it created a tech-based income opportunity for banks and launched a blitzkrieg through them. The result? Far too often, weak scanners fail to read the FASTags, and people find money deducted from their accounts multiple times. Worse, the scanners seem to be reading registrations wrongly, and people find tolls deducted from their accounts even when their vehicles are standing parked at their homes. This does not even include the menace of false challans that are 'created' and sent by the traffic police to vehicle owners simply because the super fast tech solution, as usual, onboards at lightning speed, but grievance redressal and corrections are still in the stone age.
Is it any wonder that cybercriminal gangs have found an attractive loophole in sending fake messages about 'e-challans' for traffic rule violations?
Traffic e-challan scam
The Union ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) issued a warning about fake e-challans being used to dupe people. It says, "If you receive a link for traffic challan, don't click these links (in the SMS). As clicking on these links for payments, fraudsters can hack your bank account."
Fraudsters are sending SMS using a random challan number and vehicle number for a penalty of Rs500. They also ask to pay the challan online on the echallanparivahan.in website or contact the regional transport office (RTO) for disposal of challan.
The catch in the message is that the link provided in the SMS does not belong to the traffic department or the government. The official website for verifying and paying challans for traffic rule violations is echallan.parivahan.gov.in. In contrast, the fraudsters have combined e-challan and parivahan and are using the India domain (.in) instead of gov.in, which is officially used by all government departments.
Since people are usually very reluctant to go through a laborious procedure to clear their record or face the fines and consequences if they fail to pay the amount mentioned in the challan, this works in favour of fraudsters. I have often found people, including my close friends and relatives, paying money even for a totally wrong e-challan just to close the matter. When a challan is not paid in due course, the issue goes to court, which is a nightmarish and humiliating process. So, most people would rather pay a fine–angrily or reluctantly–in order to avoid going to court and end up with a bigger cost in terms of time or maybe even a bigger penalty.
Cyber fraudsters understand this fear well; they are also banking on the fact that a majority of recipients will not even bother to check the vehicle number, let alone take the effort to find out if it is a fake link or URL. While echallanparivahan.in is now disabled, criminals are capable of creating similar-looking URLs.
Coming back to the basic infrastructure issues, most webcams and scanners used at toll booths and cameras, including CCTV cameras, used by traffic police departments are often low-quality, 'chalta hai' products. Blame it on the ridiculous tendering process, which focuses on price rather than quality and this situation is unlikely to change.
For example, most CCTV cameras used by the government department (there may be a few exceptions) are just high definition (HD) or 720 pixel quality. So, the output you would get from these CCTVs is not too clear or sharp to identify a number plate or face. Yet, we find traffic police issuing challans to the (whatever) vehicle number identified by their system, which they refer to as artificial intelligence (AI) detection.
For example, chartered accountant (CA) Vineet Bhutada tweeted that he received a challan from the traffic police when his vehicle was parked at home for the past six days.
Another person says he received a challan SMS for a traffic violation and found that the vehicle mentioned in the message does not belong to him but someone else.
One Sumit Chauhan even pointed out that he received a challan for some other vehicle with one number different from his. His vehicle number is 9466, and he received a challan for 9486.
What can you do?
- In case you received an SMS for e-challan, do read it carefully. Check the URL or link in the message without clicking on it.
- Also, check the authenticity of the e-challan message. Traffic police use SMS headers for sending e-challan. Make sure that the SMS you received has a proper SMS header, for example, VK-MHPECH or AD-VAAHAN.
- Do visit the official portal for e-challans: https://echallan.parivahan.gov.in/index/accused-challan
- You can also visit the state-specific challan portal. For example, https://mahatrafficechallan.gov.in/ is an official portal of the Maharashtra police for traffic violations. You can raise a grievance against the challan or receipt on this portal. Maharashtra police allows you to raise a grievance against a challan for a wrong vehicle, an invisible number, and wrong evidence, among others.
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.