June 25, 2024

How online scammers from Southeast Asia are fleecing Indian citizens

An increasing number of Indians are falling hook, line, and sinker for online financial scams. The origin of these scams points to three neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

Statistics from the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C) reveal that 46% of reported scams between January and April, costing victims an estimated Rs 1,776 crore, were traced back to these three countries.

The I4C, a body under the Union Home Ministry, plays a crucial role in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting cybercrime across India.

Data from the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP) showed a staggering 7.4 lakh complaints were filed between January 1 and April 30 this year. This figure is nearly half the total 15.56 lakh complaints received throughout 2023. In comparison, 9.66 lakh, 4.52 lakh, 2.57 lakh, and 26,049 complaints were recorded in 2022, 2021, 2020, and 2019 respectively.

The Fraud Categories

In their findings, the I4C identified four main types of scams originating from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, each with unique modus operandi.

Trading Scam: Miscreants lured unsuspecting victims with adverts on social media offering lucrative trading tips, often posing as renowned stock market gurus. After joining a group or channel on either WhatsApp or Telegram, victims would be prompted to install specific trading applications, wherein the cyber criminals would guide them on making “massive” profits off shares. Despite these apps not being registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), victims often fell into the trap. They unknowingly deposited money into specific bank accounts to “buy shares”, and were shown inflated profits in their digital wallets. However, when they tried withdrawing the funds, they found they could only do so once a certain threshold was met, causing them to lose money.

As per I4C CEO Rajesh Kumar, Indians lost Rs 1420.48 crore to this scam within the first four months of this year.

Digital Arrest: In this scam, victims would receive bogus calls implying they were implicated in crimes associated with illegal parcels or contraband. These fraudsters would conduct fake video calls impersonating police officers, coercing victims into paying for a phony “settlement” and “case closure”.

Kumar revealed that this scam caused Indians to lose a total of Rs 120.30 crore between January and April.

Investment Scam (Task-Based): This scam involved purported representatives contacting victims over WhatsApp with enticing offers to earn big money working from home. Victims would then be asked to complete tasks like boosting social media ratings. After a series of tasks, they would be coerced into participating in a “pre-paid” or “merchant” task, requiring initial deposits with the promise of higher returns. However, they would be left hanging high and dry, blocked, or strung along with more tasks. This scam resulted in a total loss of Rs 222.58 crore.

Romance/Dating Scam: In this scam, typically male victims were romantically ensnared by fraudsters pretending to be foreign women, who would then request financial aid to get out of a jail or airport they claimed to be detained in.

As per Kumar, Indian victims lost a total of Rs 13.23 crore to romance/dating scams within the first four months of the year.

Why Southeast Asia?

A thorough analysis of data from the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP) led the I4C to Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. It was found that these full-fledged cybercrime operations employed a wide range of deceptive tactics that exploited social media platforms for deceitful recruitment. Interestingly, most of the web applications used in these scams contained Mandarin characters, suggesting a possible Chinese involvement.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of online financial frauds are prevalent in India?

According to the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C), the four major types of online financial frauds prevalent in India are Trading Scams, Digital Arrest, Investment Scams (Task-Based), and Romance/Dating Scams. These scams generally originate from Southeast Asia, specifically Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

How can one safeguard themselves from such online frauds?

Staying vigilant is key. Do not share any crucial personal or financial information online. Be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true offers for money-making or investment opportunities. Always verify the credentials of any software or application before installing it. Check the legitimacy of caller identity when you receive unexpected calls, claiming to be from police or any other official authorities.

What should be done if one falls victim to such online scams?

If you have fallen prey to an online scam, contact your bank immediately and inform them about the fraudulent transaction. File a complaint to the nearest police station or the cybercrime cell. You can also lodge your complaint with the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP). Ensure to save all the evidence related to the crime, such as chat records, phone numbers, or email IDs.