Technology is a double-edged sword; it improves lives in myriad ways but, on the flip side, it often hurts the underprivileged in multiple ways. Take the case of digital fraud, where a set of victims loses Rs500 each. This sum may mean nothing to a middle-class or affluent person, but it represents an entire day's earnings for Rameshwar, a vegetable vendor. The point is the underprivileged are hit harder by financial fraud or scams.
The pathbreaking unified payment interface (UPI) was created to ease the payment process for everyone, especially the underprivileged. One can use UPI to make and receive payments from any other user of UPI and the ease of use has been so excellent that it is affecting credit card transactions. However, accepting payment via UPI requires a lot of care, or you could end up in a disastrous situation.
Earlier, fraudsters used to con people by luring them to scan a QR code to receive money and they ended up losing money instead. Nowadays, there is a far bigger issue that you need to watch out for, if you do not want to end up with a police investigation and your bank account frozen in ham-handed investigations. Let me give you a few examples.
UPI Payment Leading to Frozen Bank Account, Police Investigation
A family in Ahmedabad found itself trapped in an online fraud case after their UPI account got linked to a bitcoin trading scam. A teenager in the family had used the account to make occasional purchases of bitcoins. The police, while investigating a bitcoin-related fraud, froze all the accounts that had received the coins and, in this case, it led to the bank accounts of the entire family being frozen including their business dealings.
Here is what happened, according to a report from Times of India
. Pratishtha Shah suddenly found herself entangled in an online fraud case. A phone call from her husband disclosed that her UPI account had been linked to an internet fraud case due to her teenage son's occasional use of the account to buy bitcoins.
"As the day unfolded, she received more shocking news: along with her account, the police also froze the bank accounts of her father-in-law to whom she had transferred money, the provision store she shopped at, and the gymnasium where she paid the membership fee online," the report says.
While UPI and peer-to-peer (P) platforms for bitcoin trading offer convenience in paying money to acquaintances and strangers, it could also put you in the crosshairs of the police and banks.
Every day, around 355 to 477 people are conned by cybercriminals in Gujarat, the report says, adding that, in just one week, the police froze the bank accounts of 1,065 to 1,431 individuals.
According to data from the Union ministry of finance, more than 95,000 fraud cases linked to UPI transactions were recorded in 2022-23, an increase from 84,000 incidents a year ago.
There are two important issues that are the root cause of fraud in most cases. First, UPI allows anyone to seek or demand payment from another UPI account-holder. Sometimes, fraudsters transfer some money into the account and then, under the pretext of getting their money back, they create a 'receive money' request while keeping the victim engaged in conversation.
The second issue is that since the victim is made to enter the personal identification number (PIN) to authorise the transaction, there is nothing the payment gateway or service-providers can do. Responding to one such query, PhonePe clarified that it is not authorised to cancel or reverse a UPI payment once it is initiated.
Before initiating any coercive action against a bank customer, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) says at least three notices should be issued. However, in most cases, bank accounts are frozen based on police requests without notice or intimation to customers.
Freezing a bank account is quite easy for banks and police; however, for the customer, it is a Herculean effort to de-freeze the account. Most banks only insist on a written communication from the police to remove the freeze on accounts.
While digital transactions, especially UPI, offer convenience, use it to make or receive payment only with a trusted party and never with strangers or unknown faces (like making a payment on the link received in an SMS).
Beware of the Courier Scam
We have been warning about this new scam in the name of delivering something you may not even have ordered. These fraudsters were using the delivery of some parcels to cheat people. However, they have now started using 'card from bank' to lure people.
A Moneylife reader received a call from someone claiming to be a delivery person for a courier company. The caller told the reader that a card had arrived from a bank where the reader had an account and asked for the OTP. When the reader told him he was not interested, the courier person asked for the OTP to cancel the card delivery. The reader refused to provide the OTP or any other information and was, thus, saved from possible fraud.
Most people may not realise or identify warning signs in such calls. In all such fake courier delivery scams, the caller would claim you have a parcel waiting for delivery, which you may or may not have ordered. He would not share any tracking information to verify the status. At the same time, he would create urgency and pressurise you to share information to accept the package, or else it would be returned to the sender(!). Under one pretext or another, the caller would request personal information or some fees and charges for the delivery. In case you are not 'convinced', he may offer to connect you with his seniors, but only through the online mode.
How Can You Avoid Becoming a Victim of Courier Fraud?
- Be cautious of unsolicited calls or messages about parcel delivery which you have no idea about.
- If the caller uses the name of a known courier company, then do call (official numbers available on its website) and verify the details of the parcel.
- Do not respond to urgency or surrender to demands from the caller under pressure. Stay composed.
- Avoid sharing personal data, including identification and bank details, with the caller.
- If the caller threatens you, then contact the relevant government agencies on their official numbers (available on their websites) and verify. File a complaint if necessary. If you are complaining over the phone, create a record by emailing the concerned government agency and official. In the email, mention the number you called, call time, duration, the name of the person you spoke with, and what you discussed.
Stay Alert, Stay Safe!
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.