Mohammad Talib wanted to modify his GoAir flight tickets to Goa with his family and searched on Google for the airline's customer care number. The 'customer care' executive asked him to pay Rs 75 through Google Pay but the transaction failed. The so-called customer care executive then sought Talib's debit card details. An unsuspecting Tabilb who thought he was speaking to a genuine Go Air customer service executive shared his debit card details and got defrauded of Rs 66,000.
A customer using the food aggregator app Zomato had ordered sweets worth Rs 200 through the app and wished to register a complaint. He searched for the customer care service of Zomato on Google and found a number. Upon calling to resolve the issue, the fraudster asked the complainant to send the details of his bank account and UPI PIN number etc. The victim, who shared all the details in anticipation of a refund, was instead defrauded of Rs70,000 as he shared his bank account credentials.
In another instance of cyber fraud, VV Seshagiri Sastry who tried reaching out to the call centre of Goibibo was cheated of Rs 1,25,800. The trap was laid on Google, the fake customer care number was also listed on local search company Justdial.
For the cybercrime divisions of the Cyberabad and Hyderabad police, taking these numbers down from Google is only part of the problem. Officials say they are helpless as cyber-criminals often use fake documents to procure SIM cards, and it becomes difficult to trace them.
A frustrated Cyberabad police in its press release said, “Google is not monitoring the genuineness of the websites posted, whether they are original or fake. As the fraudsters are aware of this, many of the fraudsters are hosting their websites with fake customer care service numbers in Google to cheat the innocent citizens in a big way.”
Y Srinivas Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Cybercrime), told TNM, “You can't find these numbers online if you search for them now. They stop using it a few days after use. The scammers are using fake documents to procure SIM cards and are using it online.”
With poor response from central level authorities in plugging the sale of SIM cards to dubious customers, the police only have one option: to focus on awareness campaigns. This is why the Cyberabad police have now issued an advisory to the public.
The police are requesting users to never search for any customer care service numbers of any company for redressal on Google and not to use numbers given by third party websites. They are also asking the public not to share their card details, OTP, UPI PIN number and online banking passwords with any customer care service staff.
No original customer care service of any company asks you for the bank account/card details/ OTP details, say the police.
The police are encouraging the public to register their complaints to the customer care service of a company either by mail or through their toll-free number available on their original website or app.
TERM Cells offer no help
The police have, over the past two years, written several letters to the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Hyderabad to take these numbers down, but the response has been poor, say the police.
The TERM cell is the investigation team of the Department of Telecommunications to tackle the free availability of SIM cards for criminal activities in the open market.
The Hyderabad additional DCP Cyber Crime Ragu Vir told the Times of India that his department had written several letters to the TERM cell requesting action against telecom companies failing to prevent the sale of SIM cards to those with dubious or fake identities. The official added that for each fake number the telcos have to shell out Rs 50,000 as fine.
It was only in 2017 February that the DoT woke up to the need for a single unit to tackle security risks arising from cell phone networks and set up TERM cells across 22 cities.
Hyderabad also has a TERM cell. The agency is to work as “an interface between Security Agencies and Telecom Service Providers and assist in matters related to National Security."
It also works with local law enforcement agencies and the security wing of DoT regarding spillage of mobile signals from neighbouring countries into Indian Territory, deactivation of mobile numbers and checks misuse of ID documents and mobile numbers, according to TERM's stated policies.
Rising cyber crime
In Hyderabad, there has been a 62.43% rise in cyber crimes in 2019 and while releasing data of crimes, the police even treated it as a separate category. As many as 1,400 cyber crimes were committed in Hyderabad commissionerate alone in 2019, a major jump from the 401 crimes recorded in 2018. The Hyderabad police say the numbers are only set to rise in the coming years as more people start using the internet.