Fraud Alert: Zara Hat Ke, Zara Bach Ke!
While describing the challenges in Mumbai, Bambai or Bombay—as the city has been known over the years—Johnny Walker, in the 1956 Hindi superhit film CID, warned saying, "Zara hat ke zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan". Nearly seven decades later, the message of this evergreen number sung by Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt seems to apply to every aspect of human civilisation and also to cyberspace. 
 
Consider these two lines picturising Johnny Walker and Kum Kum, "Kahin satta, kahin patta, kahin chori, kahin race, kahin daaka, kahin phaanka, kahin thokar, kahin thes". You would be amazed at how aptly it applies to ever-expanding cyber crimes. The last three phrases - phaanka (non-availability), thokar (accidents) and thes (hit), have broad ramifications for everyone who goes online. 
 
Earlier this week, while participating in a television discussion, I had the opportunity to exchange thoughts with several consumer activists who shared stories on how many people, especially senior citizens, have been falling prey to fraudsters and losing their hard-earned money.
 
In one case, a 70-year-old lost over Rs2 crore after online fraudsters lured him into share trading investment, promising very high returns. The senior citizen was contacted via WhatsApp and the fraudster gave him links for downloading some apps; a bank account was provided for transferring money to participate in the share trading scheme. Incidentally, the senior citizen has some knowledge about share trading but still fell prey to the scam due to promised high returns. His greed overtook his wisdom and caution, and he is now doing the rounds of the police station to recover his hard-earned money in the scam.
 
Cybercriminals use online platforms, social media, or emails to lure victims with false investment opportunities, promising bumper returns or guaranteed profits. In most cases,  fraudsters make payments to a few early members to gain trust and establish reliability so as to lure more investors. However, all such schemes are nothing but Ponzis in the guise of share trading and vanish when an investor attempts to encash gains that are visible on a fake online wallet. It is only then that gullible people (read: greedy—it may sound harsh, but they are seeking returns without adequate due diligence and research) panic and seek help to recover their investment.
 
This senior citizen is only one among thousands who have fallen victim to a scam that assures very high returns on stock investment and that too, with zero risk. The word 'zero risk' is most often used by fraudsters as a relief word so that victims can part ways with the 'investment'. 
 
A basic diligence or hygiene that all potential investors, especially senior citizens, need to be aware of is to check whether the entity they are dealing with is registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). A SEBI registration does not guarantee that they will make money and give you high returns, but it ensures that you are not dealing with a fly-by-night operator. 
 
SEBI has a specific website for investors: https://investor.sebi.gov.in/Investor-support.html
 
It is important for people to check this website, which provides links to check the registration status of market intermediaries. Here is the link https://investor.sebi.gov.in/Investor-support.html 
 
It also allows you to check the fee structure of depository participants and examine the comparative performance of mutual funds.
 
The website of the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) also allows you to check mutual fund performance over the years. This is an important check because it allows you to benchmark your expectations. If a fraudster promises returns that are completely out of line with the best-performing funds, it ought to make you pause and think.
 
Similarly, the SEBI website also allows you to check a long list of 'money mobilisation' schemes that have duped people in the past and to examine their status.
 
If you plan to invest your hard-earned money–especially crores of rupees—some due diligence is surely required. In fact, you can even check the performance of SEBI-registered portfolio management services (PMS) and find legitimate ones that have performed well over time. The Association of Portfolio Managers of India, is a SEBI-authorised self-regulatory body that puts out data on registered investment advisors and PMS service providers with updated data.
 
Unfortunately, people simply do not do their homework. So you have stories like this person from Pune, who was cheated of Rs4.37 crore a few months ago under the pretext of investing money in forex trading. The 'investor', in this case, was promised a 24% return.
 
While fake share trading schemes seem to snare the maximum number of victims today, given the ferocious bull run of over three years, fraudsters are lurking everywhere in cyberspace. 
 
A few days ago, the central board of indirect taxes and customs (CBIC) asked people to stay alert to fraud in the name of Indian customs. These scamsters use phone calls or SMS and are focused on extracting money by frightening people about the 'purported' illegality committed in their name. People are told they have a phone that is found to be connected with a crime, or there is a parcel in their name with drugs and contraband and it is enough to scare people into doing almost anything to avoid the consequences. 
 
A little care – or saying “Zara bach ke” often works wonders. A retired bank employee received a call from her ‘bank’ for re-KYC (know-your-customer). She said she would visit her branch and do what was required, only to discover it was a scam call.  
 
Fraudsters constantly devise new tricks to fool people, proving that there is no rest for the wicked. Their goal—which is to get your personal information and money—remains the same, but their strategies change constantly, working on two basics that drive human behaviour: fear and greed. 
 
When coupled with ignorance or gullibility, fear or greed is a recipe for losing money to tricksters. This is why everyone must follow ‘Zara hat ke, zara bach ke’, especially for everything online. 
 
Also, ask any victim of cyber fraud and she will endorse that 'precautions are always better than the cure'. The reason is you may lose your hard-earned money within a second (either over a phone call or web link), but to get the money back takes several days or even months. 
 
Whether you are a youngster or a senior citizen using the internet, there is no alternative to remaining vigilant and careful always.
 
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.
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