Airtel CEO warns users of increased cyber fraud risk amid COVID 2.0

However, CEO Gopal Mittal assured subscribers that the industry first features developed by the telco would make online transactions completely secured.
Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal
Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal
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Bharti Airtel (India, South Asia) CEO Gopal Vittal, has warned the company’s 320 million-plus subscribers of increased number of cyber frauds, amid the massive increase in online transactions during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns in various parts of the country.

In a letter to Airtel subscribers on Thursday, Vittal said that they could face frauds of different kinds with increased online transactions, but assured them that the industry first features developed by the telco would make online transactions completely secured, without the fear of being duped by a fraudster. The letter listed the different kinds of frauds that the subscribers could face.

Vittal said that there are likely to be two ways in which these fraudsters operate. One, where fraudsters call customers pretending to be Airtel employees and dupe them. In this case, the fraudster, claiming to be from Airtel, calls or sends an SMS to the customer regarding an incomplete Know Your Customer (KYC) form. He/she requests the customer to install the ‘Airtel Quick Support' app from Google Play store to allow him to help, but in reality no such app exists.

When the customer tries to install it, he/she is redirected to the TeamViewer Quick Support app. The TeamViewer Quick Support app allows the fraudster to remotely take over the device and the accounts associated with it. "And so, if the customer does install it, he allows the fraudster into all his accounts connected to the device," the letter said.

Secondly, the fraudster calls or sends an SMS to the customer claiming to be from Airtel and promises highly discounted VIP numbers. As a part of the transaction, the fraudster requests a prepayment as a token/booking amount. Post receiving this amount, the fraudster ceases all contact with the person and becomes untraceable. "If this happens to you, please immediately call 121," Vittal wrote to subscribers.

He also warned against frauds related to digital payments where a subscriber's one-time password (OTP) and UPI details are accessed to make payments. With regard to OTP, the letter said, "The fraudster calls the customer claiming to be from a bank/financial institution and asks for account details or an OTP to unblock/renew the existing bank account. The details are used to withdraw money from the customer's bank account."

In case of UPI Collect, the letter informed the subscribers that the fraudster calls the customer pretending to buy a second-hand listed product from the website, negotiates the price and asks for the customer's UPI details to transfer money to the customer's account. On the customer providing the account, an SMS link is sent to the customer's phone to approve the transaction which debits the money from the account instead of crediting it.

"Airtel has worked relentlessly to ensure that you are not vulnerable to these fraudsters. This is why we have recently introduced an industry-first feature called 'Safe Pay'," Vittal said.

"This is simply the safest method of paying online in the country. It provides an additional layer of security for every transaction. So before you actually make a payment, our network intelligence throws up a message asking you to confirm the transaction to the person who is trying to pull the fraud. Therefore, if you activate Airtel Safe Pay, you are not vulnerable to fraudsters," he said.

This is the second time that the CEO has sent out a cautionary advice to Airtel subscribers highlighting that while everyone is digitally connected in the midst of the pandemic, they should not fall prey to cyber fraud.

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