Don’t all of us notice some mysterious dialog boxes asking for financial details pop-ups every here and there? Many of us get some fraudulent sorts of emails and messages proclaiming that there might be jackpot prizes if we click on directed links. All netizens at some point would have noticed fishy financial behavior. Don’t we get certain calls claiming we’ve won cash prizes and we would need to furnish our financial details to claim them? We should be beware of these fraudulent activities. The famous Netflix web series: Jamtara-Sabka Number Aayega delved into the darker world of online financial fraud which was being carried out by young boys in a small Indian town. As depicted in the series, the school dropouts in the small Indian town carried on phishing- obtained private financial information of tech-savvy citizens living in cities by befooling them and earning huge amounts of money. Phishing had emerged as a lucrative business. Indeed, the world of online financial fraud is murkier, one can lose out thousands of rupees owing to a click of carelessness.

Since the lockdown came into effect, most of our day to day operations have shifted online. The same is true for online financial transactions. There has been a surge in digital transactions since then. Albeit all the advantages digital transactions bring with them, primarily the ease with these transactions are carried out, there is a darker side to it. There have been relentless attacks on online systems, financial frauds accrue a plethora of measures to illegally scoop out of money from accounts. Some of the common methods adopted by these fraudsters are spamming, phishing to obtain private financial credentials such as personal identification information, credit card details, and other personal information. Gullible customers are preyed upon- they are sent emails, SMSs, where they can be lured by jackpot prizes and they’re asked to submit their financial details. Then, these fraudsters scoop out money from these accounts via those details. The sophistication of the technology has allowed the scamsters to send enormously large numbers of mails and these phishing operations are carried out on a large scale.

During the FIFA world cup 2018, various emails were sent out to netizens claiming that they had won free tickets to Russia. These were fake and often these scammers were phishing for personal information, sometimes even asking for a fee to receive prizes. There exist several malware and Trojans that collect private financial information. The Trojans and malware use another kind of modus operandi- they hide from detection on androids and they exploit the accessibility features of other applications on androids during the lockdown, the intensity, and velocity of these frauds have increased. These online financial frauds have developed an intricate network and online customers have lost money amounting to billions in these scams. According to research, between October 1st and December 31st, 2019, India lost Rs.128 crore in debit and credit card frauds. The biggest advantage that financial fraudsters enjoy is anonymity, it is really difficult to track cybercrimes. Fraudsters often use usernames that look somewhat real. Given the restrictions on physical movement during these times, it is difficult to verify the claims made by these fraudsters. Sometimes, these fraud mail/messages look quite authentic and customers fall in these traps losing huge amounts of money. These emails masquerade as real authorities trying to snoop into our accounts. Another mode of fraud used is the skimming of cards. Fraudsters fix bogus card readers in front of real card readers and these readers steal financial credentials. These devices can be installed in ATMs, card-swiping machines in the form of hidden spy cameras or PIN pad overlay. Internet giants like Google have also been duped of millions through phishing attacks.

There has been a short history of these cybercrime incidents. One of the most infamous of these was ‘Phish Phry.’ Federal Bureau of Investigation called Operation Phish Phry as the largest international phishing case carried out in the history of cybercrimes. Many banks and credit card customers were directed towards fake websites wherein they entered sensitive financial information. These mails masqueraded themselves as authorities of the big banks such as Wells Fargo and they were looking quite authentic. The team that worked behind this fraud was highly organized. This had been called the largest cybercrime by the FBI because of the largest number of people charged for the same fraud. This fraud had found its link in Egypt as well along with the United States. The conspirators in Egypt had collected personal credential information and used it to hack the bank account of these customers. The scamsters had managed to pile up US $1.5million from these transactions. This crime had been entirely carried out via emails.

Another infamous scam was ‘Walter Stephen’- which holds the distinction of a single individual- Walter Stephan an Austrian aerospace executive losing out the highest amount of money from a single scam. He was the CEO of FACC- an organization that manufactures aircraft components. Frauds faked the mail of the CEO and demanded an employee in the lower hierarchy to transfer large sums of money to an unknown bank account. This mail informed the employee that the transaction was because of the acquisition. It had been sent to an entry-level accountant. The accountant fell into the trap and sent the wire. The company lost $47 million as a result. FACC fired Walter Stephen and the CFO. The company could retrieve 1/5th of the total amount. After this FACC made a rule that communication should be made after every mail sent in the hierarchy. This was made mandatory so that millions could be saved.

As mentioned earlier in the article, another online fraud took place during the FIFA world cup 2018. The Federal Trade Commission had to intervene to ensure that it is known that consumers can purchase match tickets from FIFA’s original website only. Numerous emails were sent luring about free match tickets, free hotel bookings among others. The scamsters targeted Booking.com users in one of the cases sending them original looking mails- this was a universal phenomenon- phishers from around the world took advantage of the opportunity. These mails consisted of the original information from the hotel bookings which made them look as original. The use of real data to draft fake messages was witnessed in the Moscow World Cup Vacation Rental Scam.

We should be very cautious when we’re online. There might be numerous ways in which these fraudsters are trying to track our financial transactions. The SMSs requesting our sensitive information should be reported immediately. If they appear to be “phishy”, we should refrain from giving these details. The scammers often take advantage of the weak links. We as customers should be extremely cautious of such fishy online financial behavior. We must take care of our private and sensitive information. The cost of these details leaking out could be very high. Let’s be responsible netizens!

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