Fraud Alert: Extortion Using Voice Cloning and CSR Scams
An hour after Himanshu Singh dropped off his son for a joint entrance exam (JEE) mock test, he received a call from a 'police inspector' saying his son had been caught with a gang of rapists and demanded Rs30,000 through Paytm to clear his name. Mr Singh also heard his son's voice seeking help and requesting him to pay the money. He went ahead and paid Rs10,000. He also reached the exam centre and, with help from the local police, found that his son was inside the exam hall and had not been caught by any policeman, as claimed by the caller. This was reported by  Indian Express recently.
 
On 11th March, Kaveri (@iKaveri) posted a long thread on X on having received a call about how her daughter and three others were caught for having recorded someone in a compromising position. The caller wanted money to arrange a compromise settlement. When she asked to speak to her daughter, she heard someone who sounded exactly like her daughter asking to be saved. Kaveri, however, realised it was a fraud since her daughter would not speak like that.
 
Interestingly, she posted the number of the fraudster (+916309476877), and Truecaller India responded by saying that the number she had shared had been reported by many phone users and marked in red to help warn others.
 
 
What made the X narration scary is the series of comments and other numbers from which fraud calls with a similar modus operandi have emanated, revealing how voice cloning and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) are the latest despicable frauds to cheat people.
 
New-age criminals use technology with a sophistication that is often beyond our imagination. In all these cases reported on social media and elsewhere, fraudsters had cloned the voices of children using free tools based on AI, machine learning (ML) and large language models (LLMs). These tools allow cyber criminals to incorporate hyper-realistic digital falsification to create synthetic media like voice messages or audio video clips. 
 
Apart from voice cloning, I also want to tell you how fraudsters are using similar-looking domains to dupe people in the name of donating money through the corporate social responsibility (CSR) route. 
 
Voice Cloning Scam 
 
"You get a call from someone threatening to implicate your child in a criminal case if you do not meet their demands. You grow wary, wondering if someone is trying to con you. The next minute, however, you hear your sobbing child over the phone, and you fear it may be true after all. And so you pay up — only to realise later that it was, indeed, a scam. Your child was never on the phone, but their voice was cloned using sophisticated software," says a media report.
 
The fraudsters essentially create realistic voice clones or video clips that require some basic inputs to work. The question is, how and from where do they obtain these inputs? The answer is social media!
 
Although the media report does not go into detail, the problem starts with people sharing details of their lives on social media, especially in the form of family videos on birthdays, holidays, and special celebrations. These provide handy samples for fraudsters to clone the voices of family members, especially children. 
 
Many experts have repeatedly warned that social media is not the safe and friendly neighbourhood that you imagine it to be. Your inputs and social interactions are tracked by creditors, potential employers and even fraudsters, psychopaths and crooks. Since social media accounts require minimal identity verification, they provide anonymity or pseudonymity for fraudsters to operate under false identities, making it harder to track them and bring them to book. 
 
What makes their dirty work easier is that many social media users are not even aware of the various risks and threats present on these platforms. The tendency to trust social media information and interactions without exercising caution or scepticism makes them vulnerable to exploitation by fraudsters.
 
So the next time, before uploading your photos or video or updating your status on social media, consider the risks and dangers associated with it, like voice cloning fraud, identity theft, financial fraud, or phishing attacks.
 
CSR scams
 
Following an alert raised by TV anchor and commentator Sumanth Raman, Tech Mahindra Foundation issued a warning against fraud taking place using its name.
 
In a post on X, Mr Raman shared an incident in which a principal of a school that he is associated with was promised two school vans at book value from TechMahindra Foundation. The caller claimed to be an old student of the school. Sharing the details of two vehicles, he asked for Rs1.27 lakh per van to be transferred to Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd account in Indian Bank. 
 
As luck would have it, the principal shared the details with Mr Raman before sending the money. He found there was an additional letter 's' in the domain name in the sender's email ID. Instead of techmahindrafoundation.org, the email was sent from the techmahindrafoundations.org domain. 
 
"I checked the bank IFSC code he had given. It was a place called Akividu in West Godavari district. Figured out it was a scam. Called the guy back and asked for his year of passing out and, more details, and an invoice from company. He hung up," Mr Raman says. 
 
Had the principal transferred the money, it would have been credited to the Indian Bank account number in the same branch, but the name of the account-holder could have been something else. That is because Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines for electronic fund transfer dictate that only the account number and IFSC code are considered for the transfer and not the name of the beneficiary. 
 
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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