Fraud Alert: WhatsApp and Telegram Scams
Delhi-based Ashish Kumar Tomer received a message on WhatsApp offering him the opportunity to earn money by rating restaurants on Google. The sender claimed to be from Career Builder Ltd. When he accepted the offer, he was added to a Telegram group. After completing some rating 'tasks', he was asked to 'invest' more money to complete tasks with more rewards. Then, he was added to another Telegram group, where he was offered huge returns on investment. Unfortunately, even after investing over Rs23 lakh to earn good returns, he could not withdraw even his invested money. He is one more victim of the new age 'task' and 'investment' scams rampant on social media chat apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. 
 
In this type of fraud, cybercriminals are not in a hurry to vanish with your money – they play a long game. It involves 'task completion and easy, quick reward', which is usually deposited in a virtual wallet to reassure victims that it can be withdrawn at will. Once hooked, the victim is nudged to pay a small fee to complete more challenging tasks for bigger rewards. The 'investment trap' usually becomes evident when the victim tries to withdraw the virtual profit and discovers there is nothing.  
 
According to a report from Times of India, the Delhi police have arrested four people involved in supplying and managing bank accounts of the cyber fraudsters. A money trail of Rs60 lakh has been unearthed so far, and the syndicate was seen to have links with Chinese nationals. During the investigation, the police found some Telegram groups where bank accounts are sold and purchased by fraudsters for a commission. 
 
Frauds can take various forms on messaging platforms. While WhatsApp and Telegram have security measures in place, they cannot protect you if you open a link or download a file after receiving a message from an unknown sender. 
 
Before explaining various types of fraud associated with messaging apps, let us understand a basic safeguard – the need to control our greed and not succumb to fear. Every fraud works by exploiting one of the two reactions  - inducing fear or greed, and it works across age groups.
 
People easily part with their hard-earned money when someone offers a high return, or they are coerced or threatened to part with money by playing on the fear factor.
 
Let us look at some common types of fraud associated with messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
 
Phishing: Users receive messages containing fake links that mimic legitimate websites. These are designed to steal login credentials or personal information. 
 
Impersonation: Fraudsters impersonate someone known to the victim--a friend, family member, or colleague, and request money or sensitive information. Artificial intelligence (AI) tools and deepfakes have led to an explosion in the use of impersonation to defraud people. A few days ago, fake sexually explicit images of Taylor Swift, the renowned pop star, believed to have been made using artificial intelligence, were spread widely online. Given her celebrity status and the rash of searches that were triggered,  X (erstwhile Twitter) was forced to block searches in her name. 
 
Fake job offers: Scammers may use these platforms to offer fake job opportunities, asking for personal information or upfront payments. 
 
Lottery and prize scams: Messages claiming the user has won a lottery or prize may be used to trick individuals into providing personal information or sending money.
 
Investment scams: Fraudsters promote fake investment opportunities, promising high returns to lure users into providing funds. 
 
Malware distribution: Malicious files or links are shared through messages, leading to the installation of malware on the recipient's device or mobile phone.
 
Romance scams: Fraudsters may establish fake romantic relationships with users, eventually requesting money or sensitive information. 
 
Sextortion scams: Fraudsters initiate a video call and suddenly you see explicit images of the video. This is usually followed by demands for money. The fraudsters even pose as the police to instill fear of arrest and then extort money from the victim. 
 
The best way to protect yourself from fraud is to stay informed, be sceptical of unsolicited messages, and follow best practices for online security. Regularly updating apps and software, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA), and immediately reporting any suspicious activity to platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram can help protect you and others.
 
Watch out for messages claiming you have won a prize, have a job offer, require urgent assistance or offer easy money for completing a simple task. Scammers often use such tactics. Do not heed unusual requests from friends or family asking you to share sensitive information or give them money without a call or meeting to verify the request.
 
Do not click on links or download files from unknown sources. Verify the legitimacy of links by checking the sender's identity and the URL. 
 
Remember, legitimate organisations or individuals will not ask for sensitive information, such as passwords or financial details, through unsolicited messages. Also, ask yourself a simple question: Why would anyone offer easy and good money for completing a simple task, or why would anyone be so kind as to offer you huge returns on investment and not earn the money themselves?
 
If in doubt, verify the request through a trusted channel before taking any action. Stay vigilant, be skeptical, and prioritise your online security.
 
Stay Alert, Stay Safe!
 
How To Report Cyber Fraud?
 
Do report cyber crimes 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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