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Hello! Fraudsters calling

The missed-call racket looks small, but is growing at an alarming pace.

mumbai Updated: May 17, 2012 01:21 IST

Last Holi was a special time for Anand Gotukde as he had just opened his mobile store in Kurla: something he had been wanting to do for a long time. The celebrations, however, were soured by an anonymous telephone call.

The call did not carry any tragic news, it in fact told Gotukde that he had won a gift voucher and just had to key in ‘#09’ and end the call.

“The caller claimed to be calling on behalf of a telephone service provider, so I believed him and keyed in whatever he told me. What could possibly go wrong?” Gotukde told Hindustan Times.

Gotukde and at least 10 others in Kurla who were duped at the same time were clearly not aware about a tele-fraud racket operating in the city.

Apart from offering gift vouchers, the criminals at times pose as service providers offering better schemes. It was only when Gotukde found that around his talk time balance of Rs 2,000 available on his SIM card had been transferred to some anonymous account that he realised he had been duped. He contacted the service provider and tried following up the case but nothing came of it.

Like Gotukde, there are several others in the city who have been duped with the same trick or variations of this modus operandi. However, as the amount involved is not that big and it does not fall under the conventional crime category, it goes unreported to a large extent, believe cyber experts.

Senior inspector of Bandra-Kurla Complex cyber police Nandkishore More confirmed about people being duped by ‘mostly international callers promising them gifts’.

An officer from the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell (CCIC) speaking on condition of anonymity explained, “On most occasions these international calls are routed through the Internet. Their targets are persons with pre-paid accounts with a substantial talk time balance. The accused transfer the talk time balance to their own accounts.”

When questioned about the comparatively lower amounts targeted by the criminals as compared to other cyber frauds like credit card frauds, cyber expert Vicky Shah said, “When taking into consideration a single case the amount does not seem that big. However, lakhs of such calls are made on a daily basis, so looking at the bigger picture the amount involved is large.”

He said, “What such a scam also does is that as the amount does not seem that big, there is no incentive on the part of the victim to report it officially. At the most a person may inform the service provider.”

An officer from the cyber police speaking on condition of anonymity said, “People have the tendency to not come forward and report such incidents. It is, however, important they do. The reason is that as such cases have been coming to light what we are doing on a trial basis is whenever such a case is reported, we immediately approach the service providers and ask them to block the particular number, as many persons receive missed calls from the same number on several occasions. If people inform us regularly, many such numbers can be blocked.”

Apart from calls promising gifts and better schemes, another modus operandi on similar lines used by criminals is making missed calls to people from international numbers generally starting with + 0092 and +232.

“The callers normally make several missed calls during the course of the day. Many people who ignore the call once, may return the call after several missed calls thinking it could be an emergency. When they call up the number it turns out to be either an adult hotline number or it turns out that there is no one talking on the other side,” an officer from the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell (CCIC) explained on condition of anonymity.

He said, “When the person subsequently checks his mobile balance he realises a major chunk of his online balance has been transferred to some unknown number. On many occasions when the person approaches the service provider, they, too, are unaware of the origin of the call.” The officer said that while it does appear to be an international racket it cannot be ruled out that someone could be using international SIM cards locally to ensure that the calls are not traced back to them. “Once we get even one member of any such gang, we will be able to better understand how they function,” the officer said.

Case study

I returned a call to a Dubai number and lost Rs 100

Varun Zinje, 26, audio engineer

Mumbai: Last November, when Varun Zinje, a resident of Andheri (East) received several missed calls from an international number in one day, he thought it could be his Dubai-based friend trying to contact him.

“I was initially sceptical. Later, however, I called on the number thinking that my friend who had gone to Dubai may be in some kind of trouble. When I called back it turned out to be an adult hotline number. I immediately disconnected the phone and I knew something was fishy,” Varun told HT.

“When I checked my account, more than Rs 100 of my account balance had been wiped out. “I immediately went to my service provider whose response was disappointing. They accused me of having activated the service. When I vehemently denied doing so, they said nothing could be done about it and asked me to leave the store,” he said.

Determined to bring this apathy on the part of his service provider to the public domain, Varun approached the MIDC police station where he was initially told ‘to throw away his SIM card and not bother with the complaint’. “Later, they told me that the issue does not fall under their jurisdiction and go to Sahar police station. At this point I realised it was a lost cause and did not bother further.”

Grill session

‘Do not return calls from international phone numbers’

Vicky Shah, cyber expert

From when have you been receiving complaints about telephone calls being used for crime?

I received a complaint of this kind around 10 months ago. So, I suspect this has been going on for at least a year.

As the amount duped per person is too low, how can there be awareness about these cases?

The service providers here can play a pro-active role. In cases where a particular service provider gets complaints from several customers, they can club the complaints and approach the police. On many occasions the callers claim to be calling on behalf of service providers, thus it is as much a threat to them, as the customers who are being duped.

What precautions can be taken by the common man to ensure he does not fall prey to such crimes?

Do not call back on international numbers unless you have the number saved. In case you receive several missed calls, you could alert the service provider. Also, in case you receive calls from your service provider asking you to key in some numbers, call up the customer service of your service provider and confirm the same before keying in anything.

Are only pre-paid users vulnerable to such frauds or post-paid users too?

Pre-paid users are more vulnerable. With post-paid cards, there are talk plans associated with each customer, so generally, the losses incurred to the user are rejected when it comes to post-paid users.

Then how do criminals know if a person is using a post-paid or pre-paid card?

There are websites where you can find out if a card is pre-paid or post-paid, its service provi-der and location by typing the number.