Airtel CEO raises alarm over surge in cyber frauds amid pandemic, outlines steps on how to stay safe online

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Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal on Thursday raised alarm bells for its 300-plus million subscribers in India over the surge in cases of cyber frauds amid the ongoing pandemic. In an email sent out to customers today, Vittal highlighted the modus operandi that miscreants are seemingly adopting to trick unsuspecting users – who are relying on online transactions now more than ever – in order to mete out their nefarious practices, say for instance, to steal their hard-earned money. The email also carried some useful tips to keep in mind to avoid being a victim of online fraud during these challenging times.

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“With the growing second wave of the pandemic and lockdowns in various parts of the country, there has been a massive increase in online transactions. Unfortunately, there has also been a corresponding increase in cyber fraud,” Vittal said.

One of the ways that fraudsters could trick users is by calling or texting them under the pretext of an Airtel employee claiming their Know Your Customer (KYC) form was incomplete. To facilitate this “false” claim, they could ask users to install a so-called “Airtel Quick Support” app from the Google Play Store presumably through a link sent over to their device. Be warned that no such app exists officially.

The link instead is deigned to redirect users to another app called “TeamViewer Quick Support”, which is a malware in disguise, and once installed, it could allow the fraudster to get complete control over the user’s device and all the accounts associated with it. Vittal urged users to guard against such instances which is to say, be extremely careful about clicking on any such link and installing any such app because Airtel will “never ask you to download any third-party apps.”

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Fraudsters could also reach out to users with a promise of highly discounted VIP numbers similarly. In lieu of this, they could ask users to pay a certain token or booking amount and become “untraceable” after receiving these funds. Vittal said that “Airtel does not sell VIP numbers on the phone” and therefore it was advisable to not fall for any such attempt.

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OTP frauds are on the rise lately, Vittal said, due to the increase in digital transactions as more and more people stay cooped up inside their homes to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. Fraudsters could call users under the pretext of a bank or financial institution and ask them for their account details, or an OTP claiming to unlock or renew their existing account. If shared, this would allow them to withdraw money from the user’s account. Vittal urged users not to fall for such a thing.

Yet another way that fraudsters could dupe users is by pretending to buy a second-hand listed product from a website, negotiating the price, and seeking out their UPI details to transfer the funds. An SMS link is usually sent to the user’s phone to approve the transaction but instead of crediting the amount, money is debited from their account.

Vittal said in all the cases where users were called by fake Airtel employees, they could simply call 121 to confirm if that was indeed the case – or if they were being duped. The Airtel CEO added that the telco was working relentlessly to ensure users were not vulnerable to these fraudsters and introduced features like “Safe Pay” that is said to provide an additional layer of security for every transaction.

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