As criminals switch to ‘digital India’, Govt forms committee to tackle phone fraud

Cybercrime unit of Kerala Police

The government of India has set up a “Committee on Phone Frauds” to deal rising instances of theft of money using phone calls and one time passwords.

India has seen a sharp increase in the number of ‘phishing calls’ made on phones in recent years for several reasons, including new laws that require people to link their mobile phone numbers and bank accounts to their Aadhaar identification numbers, and requirements by telecom operators for their users to swap their SIM cards.

Cyber criminals typically operate by cold-calling unsuspecting people and warn them that their mobile number or bank account is about to be disconnected for failing to link it to their Aadhaar number.

They also offer an urgent solution involving the victim telling them a one-time password that will be sent to their number.

The one-time password is usually generated by the criminals at the other end to reset the victim’s banking password, make a card payment, create a new online banking account, get a new 4G SIM or for any other transaction that allows them to take control of the victim’s phone number or bank account.

Due to recent advances in technology, it is now possible for anyone with the victim’s phone number and knowledge of the last six digits of his or her ATM card to make withdrawals from the person’s bank account using UPI.

Similarly, criminals have been quick to take advantage of the rollout of 4G SIMs and the massive replacement of SIM cards required to use the new networks. In such cases, criminals work by transferring the mobile numbers of victims to blank SIMs obtained by them from telecom showrooms by getting the victim to send an SMS of their blank SIM number to the operator.

The new ‘4G SIM’ is then used for banking transactions, such as money transfer, resetting of online banking password and so on.

Jharkhand is the preferred base for such criminals because of the easy availability of Hindi-speaking talent as well as protection from left-wing extremist groups or Maoists.

Even as technology now allows criminals sitting in a village in Jharkhand to target the entire Indian ‘market’, the country still does not have a single, unified agency to tackle such crimes.

Law and order is a state subject in India and state police typically don’t operate outside their borders except in cases of grievous crimes such as murder or kidnapping.

As a result, reporting phishing calls to the police station usually results in no action.

However, said communications minister Manoj Sinha, the government is coming up with a unified strategy to deal with the threat.

He said the government has set up, under the aegis of the home ministry, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Phone Frauds (IMCPF) to “assess various aspects of dealing with phone frauds.”

The committee has representatives from various ministries and departments, he added.

The minister admitted that many people approach the DoT with complaints related to loss of money, but there is not much the department can do now.

“Whenever DoT receives such type of complaints, like dubious fake call rackets that dupe people by promising jobs, various offers and fraudulently obtaining sensitive financial information, DoT advises complainants to approach the Law enforcing agencies like Police etc, for lawful action,” he said, adding that the department is ready to co-operate with the police in all investigations.

Sinha also said Jharkhand has emerged as a hotspot for such activities. “It has been observed that cyber-crime activities for frauds in financial transactions are being carried out in an organised manner primarily from some districts of Jharkhand targeting ignorant persons from all over India,” he said.