A massive vishing racket that defrauded lakhs of gullible individuals and families across states is a grim reminder of vulnerability of online financial transactions. It is interesting that the online racket has its veritable command centre in a remote village of Karmatar in Jharkhand and is run by school dropouts, uneducated and unemployed youth.
Gaining the trust of individuals via phone calls, voice modulation, posing as insurance and bank officials is the big part of this racket. Gaining access to bank accounts, credit and debit card details coupled with PIN and OTP numbers led to huge swindling of money from lakhs of accounts.
Interestingly, the online financial fraud has become an organised crime syndicate and a full-time industry with unsuspecting individuals in Delhi, Noida, Faridabad, Mumbai and other metros robbed of their hard earned money. While the police and cyber crime sleuths have broken into one Jharkhand-based gang, hundreds of such syndicates may be in operation with very little help or support for their victims.
As the Indian economy gets increasingly digitised, the potential for such crimes is bound to go up manifold. Unless all the stakeholders – banks, account holders, IT networks and cyber-crime sleuths – come together, the daylight robbery will continue unhindered. These crimes are like breaking into homes when the family members are out on work while the police patrols look the other way. Hence, security agencies may have to brace up to tackle technology-driven crimes and financial frauds. For counter measures to be effective, more technology savvy professionals may have to be recruited by the cyber-crime police while ethical hackers need to be roped in to keep a tight vigil.
Till now, online criminals have had a free run after dodging law enforcement agencies behind war dialers, voice over intenet telephony, spoof caller IDs and identity deflectors. The Mumbai Police registered at least 256 cases of vishing in just six months between January and June last year. Scores of other such crimes seem to have gone unreported. In 2016 alone, over 32 lakh debit cards got misused owing to malware and online fraud in the country. Groups like Legion Crew operating out of India had managed to hack into accounts of prominent people including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and business tycoon Vijay Mallya who is on run for wilful default with banks.
Online financial fraudsters are specialised and those involved could most probably be white-collared professionals. On the contrary, the Jharkhand based gang was virtually illiterate with huge aspirations for a lavish lifestyle. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s twitter and pinterest accounts got breached after having zeroed in on his password ‘dadada’. A Russian hacking group known for making inroads into bank data to steal money without trail had also accessed Oracle-Micros payment systems that involved huge debit card transactions.
India is not alone in facing a huge threat from online fraudsters that continue to elude the long arm of the law. Most developing countries and technology savvy western economies seem vulnerable to internet crimes. India needs to put together a comprehensive strategy to tackle these crimes as digital transactions grow.